Taxing the Taxman

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NOBODY LOVES the IRS. Kerrey-Portman, the bill that would create an outside management board at the agency, passed the House Wednesday by a landslide 426-4 vote, and is ready to roll through the Senate in time for Turkey Day.

But the bill's rousing bipartisan success, assured since President Clinton's October flip-flop, leaves Republicans with a new problem: How to keep their lead on taxes, which, with the 1998 races looming, has fast become politics' most attractive issue.

Struggling to stay out front, tax hawks like Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich are looking to redirect the formidable momentum that carried Kerrey-Portman: Reform of the evil IRS, they insist, is mere prelude to a sweeping reform of taxation itself. "People are tired of the current tax code," said Gingrich Wednesday. "It's not fair to simply say it's about the IRS as an institution. It's also about the code they are trying to enforce."

They can't blame the IRS for that. It was Congress, after all, that passed the Byzantine 10,000-page code currently in place. And filling many of those pages are the breaks, loopholes and other gifts that lawmakers have been publicly decrying and privately inserting since the days of the tithe.

The mood may be right but to really scale the Hill, the burn-the-code movement still needs a leader. And Steve Forbes just ain't gonna cut it.