Who's the Flattest of Them All?

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Trying to go Steve Forbes one better, Phil Gramm announced Tuesday he's for a 16 percent flat tax that would deductions for home mortgages and charitable donations, even as a Dole-influenced tax commission issued a recommendation of its own. Gramm's rate is one percent lower than the plan put forth by Steve Forbes, whose extensive TV advertising has propelled the issue to the forefront of Campaign '96. "This is a blueprint for revitalizing America," Gramm boasted Tuesday from New Hampshire, while predicting voters would lose interest in Forbes' plan since it doesn't tax investment income. Meanwhile, in Washington, former housing secretary Jack Kemp's tax commission issued its long-awaited report on tax reform, which endorsed the flat tax while leaving out specifics on what percentage should be taxed and what, if any, deductions should be preserved. Both announcements point to the promise and problem of the flat tax for the GOP, notes TIME's Jeffrey Birnbaum. "The flat tax is the hottest new issue on the campaign trail and has launched Steve Forbes into second place," he says. But, the idea may rapidly be overtaken by politics. Since Jack Kemp is a longtime flat tax advocate, it seems odd that his commission didn't provide a detailed recommendation. Odd, that is, until the membership of the commission is examined. "It was packed with Dole supporters," says Birnbaum, "and Bob Dole has been concerned about criticisms the flat tax would increase the deficit and be a giveaway to the wealthy. He didn't want specifics from the commission, and voila, there are none."