Republican candidates came out slugging over their differing approaches to taxes in Wednesday's CNBC Presidential debate.
It may not be as sexy as getting tough with China, building a wall on the Mexican border or bashing Obamacare, but taxes win elections. And the notion of a "flat tax" is emerging as a point of contention both with Democrats as well as among Republican candidates.
That's as opposed to the current system with its graduated rates, plus a plethora of deductions. Legislating those deductions has long been at the center Congressional horse-trading, even in times of deadlock.
Thus far, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have expressed enthusiastic support for radically changing the U.S. tax code. Carson says he would like to apply a 10%-to-15% flat tax to everyone regardless of their personal income or wealth. Carson likes to compare such a tax to tithing in church, the biblical reference of providing one-tenth of your income to God.
"We need a significantly changed taxation system," he said during the Republican debate in Cleveland. "And the one that I've advocated is based on tithing, because I think God is a pretty fair guy."
What God thinks about taxes aside, if Carson's 10 percent flat tax is implemented, the Citizens for Tax Justice, a progressive think tank, estimates that the deficit would increase by $3 trillion in only one year because his plan would only bring in revenue of $1.1 trillion or 32% of the receipts from our current tax system. The think tank also estimates taxes would rise by nearly $3,000 on 95% of taxpayers, while reducing taxes by almost $200,000 for the wealthiest 1%.
A simplified tax code is something Republicans, and Democrats, have been advocating for years. And even when talking about taxes, the notion of one tax that simply needs to be raised or lowered misses the enormous complexity of the issue.
Nonetheless, Texas Senator Ted Cruz has said he wants doing taxes to "become so simple that they could be filled out on a postcard."
In a 2014 column in USA Today, Cruz called for abolishing the Internal Revenue Service along with imposing a national flat tax.
Policy wonks argue over the potential economic fallout, but flat tax supporters suggest that the increased spending resulting from abolishing a complicated tax code with its attendant incentives would give government revenues, in the case of a 17% flat tax, a 1.8 percentage-point shot in the arm.
Rand Paul is another enthusiastic supporter of a flat tax.
As President, Paul would institute a flat 14.5% tax rate applied to all citizens regardless of personal wealth. He laid out his vision in The Wall Street Journal. While his supporters claim such a radical changing the tax code would be a boon to business, others counter it would devastate schools, public transportation, hospitals and healthcare, police and firefighting services, creating a $15 trillion hole in the federal budget, according to one estimate.
Not all Republicans agree.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have called for a three-tiered tax code with a 28% top-bracket tax rate, though Christie's corporate tax rate is 25% instead of Jeb's 20%. Donald Trump has called for increasing the number of of tax brackets to four from three but eliminates many of the same deductions that Bush and Christie would retain.