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House votes to toss out the tax code

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Utah's three House members joined a narrow majority Wednesday to call for scrapping the current federal tax code by 2003.

The House voted 219-209 to pass a bill setting a time certain for dumping current tax rules without specifying what the replacement rules should be.President Clinton said that is a bad idea that would leave Americans uncertain over their investments. Senate passage is considered a long shot. But House Republicans reveled in putting Democrats on record as defending the current system.

And Utah's three House members joined in lofting verbal grenades at unpopular taxes and complicated rules behind them.

"The current tax code is too complex, too costly, too confusing and too corrupt. All we can do now is rip it out by the roots and start over," said Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah.Rep.

Merrill Cook, R-Utah, said, "If one were to start from scratch, no one in his right mind would ever come up with the current tax code. Never. Not in a million years.

"It is incredibly complicated. It has countless loopholes, special cases, exemptions and arcane provisions," he said. "It's time to start a national debate on a new tax code."

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, said requiring Congress to enact a replacement code no later than July 4, 2002 - which Republicans like to call Independence (from tax chaos) Day - would force the nation to begin serious debate now on how to improve the system.

"A deadline will work wonders on focusing the energies of the American people, Congress and the president on real tax reform - as opposed to the typical endless banter for which Washington is infamous," Cannon said.

However, Democrats argued that scrapping the current tax code without having something in hand to replace it with is unwise.

"The Republican bill said, `We should do the right thing,' " said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who pushed an alternate to merely force hearings on the issue. "We say, `Don't have a repeal unless we do the right thing.' "

The measure now goes to the Senate, where Majority Leader Trent Lott, D-Miss., has promised to bring it to the floor - but many see passage there as difficult. Clinton also would likely veto the bill if it passes, and the close House vote shows a veto likely could not be overridden.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., strongly defended the bill as a necessary first step toward fundamental tax reform. He vividly described the political difficulty for opponents of the bill.

"Then you go back home to your small businessman and your small businesswoman and you tell them why you didn't want to help relieve them of the tax burden and all of the attorneys' fees and all of the accounting fees," Gingrich said.