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Tax Panel Urges Big Changes

032102, story, IRS Tax taxes, JM
CBS/AP
A presidential tax reform panel issued its final report Tuesday, submitting two proposals that would rewrite virtually every federal income tax law and eliminate or seriously change popular breaks like the home mortgage interest deduction.

Treasury Secretary John Snow called the proposals "bold recommendations" but the White House said it was not yet ready to embrace any of it, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller.

"The president is going to make the decisions in due course but that's after the treasury secretary sends him recommendations," McClellan said.

Under the panel's plan, most deductions, credits and other tax breaks would be eliminated along with much of the paperwork and equations that baffle taxpayers under a drastically simplified income tax.

Many, including the nine members of the presidential commission, have said key recommendations will be unpopular.

"The effort to reform the tax code is noble in its purpose, but it requires political willpower," the group said Tuesday in a letter to Snow. "Many stand waiting to defend their breaks, deductions and loopholes, and to defeat our efforts."

Members of the panel urged taxpayers and lawmakers to look at the whole plan, not just individual components.

Asked whether the administration could build support for a tax plan that contained some controversial ideas, Snow said, "I happen to believe — it may be naive, but I don't think so — that good ideas ultimately prevail."

The President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform spent most of the year studying tax designs, including consumption taxes like a national retail sales tax. President Bush tasked the group with finding simpler and more economically productive ideas for taxation.

The commission wrapped up its work last month, and its ideas immediately attracted criticism — some from those who wanted to see more change and some from those who felt the changes went too far.

Drawing particular criticism, the panel determined that tax breaks for homeownership be changed to spread their benefits to more middle-income families.

The deduction is a tax break on mortgage interest, which homeowners have been using to cut their taxes ever since the income tax was enacted nearly a century ago, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr.

It's helped make the American dream more affordable, and has been so off-limits to reformers it's been called the "third rail of tax politics," Orr says.

The panel would convert the home mortgage interest deduction into a credit equal to 15 percent of mortgage interest paid. The $1 million limit on mortgages eligible for the tax break would shrink to the average regional price of housing, ranging from $227,000 to $412,000.