Archer's Way

Don't like the IRS? Neither does Bill Archer. And now the mild-mannered Houston congressman is pushing a radical plan to shut it down.

Knowing he'll need bipartisan support, Archer has taken care not to endorse a specific plan while he works both sides of the aisle. And it will take a while for the true dimensions of his proposed tax revolution to become clear. The references to how the U.S. conducted business in the 19th century sound good, but the America of today is considerably different from the nation that existed 100 years ago. And there's also the niggling problem of uncertainty: at the moment, no developed nation in the world depends on a sales tax instead of an income tax. The heady rush that comes from taking such an economic leap might end up disappearing once people discover exactly what's on the other side.

Still, nobody ever said revolutions were easy, or without risk. And it's hard to ignore the fact that Archer has come a long way from that 1994 press conference when he introduced himself as the new chair of Ways and Means. At that meeting with the media, one reporter asked Archer if he were even sure if he were going to be the new chairman. Newt Gingrich was said to be changing all the rules about committee appointments. Maybe Gingrich would want someone more conservative, the reporter asked.

More conservative than Bill Archer? The man who had been lobbying for a balanced budget amendment since 1971? The man who had defied Ronald Reagan's tax reform and urged George Bush not to raise taxes? "Surely you're jesting," Archer replied.

That afternoon, two reporters cornered Gingrich in his office across the street from Ways and Means. Who was Bill Archer, they asked, and was he serious? Replacing the income tax was one thing that hadn't appeared on the Republicans' Contract. "Newt just chuckled," Archer says. " 'You see,' he told the reporters, 'that only shows there is someone around here even more radical than me.'

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