By Elise Viebeck - 04/23/12 09:45 AM EDT
Freshman Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) favors a straightforward approach to tax reform: replace all rates with a single national sales tax of 23 percent.
This so-called Fair Tax approach, which Woodall introduced in a bill on his first day in office, would make the tax system simpler and more transparent, he said.
The “Fair Tax” has seen swells of conservative interest for years: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is a supporter, as is Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who ran on the issue during his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996.
Even recent contenders for the Republican presidential nomination — like businessman Herman Cain and Texas Gov. Rick Perry — have had kind words for the idea.
But for decades, the “Fair Tax” has foundered under strong pressure from Democrats who argue that such a system would disproportionately burden the poor and the middle class.
Even as early as the Depression era, the term “spare-the-rich tax” was used by members of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration to deride the proposal.
Woodall, who called the current Congress an “exciting time” for “Fair Tax” supporters, dismissed the notion that the system would benefit the rich.
“Everyone pays based on what they consume. So the poor pay less and the rich pay more,” he said.
“It means that folks who scrimp and save and shop at the Salvation Army pay less, and those who want to go around in designer clothes and designer cars are going to pay more.”
“We’re not trying to punish folks on the far lower end of the income scale. Far from it,” he said, noting that his own upbringing was humble. “Folks understand there will be a little sticker shock at the grocery cart when they’re shopping, at first. But the point is: they will be shopping with their full paycheck.”
Unlike most freshman lawmakers, Woodall didn’t have much to learn about Capitol Hill when he took his seat more than a year ago.
The Georgia Republican was a 16-year veteran in the office of the congressman he replaced — Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.), now retired — and had served as Linder’s chief of staff for a decade before running in 2010.
His experience landed him choice spots on the House Budget and Rules committees, and brought out an independent streak that has moved him to vote several times against his party’s leadership.
“I don’t need to throw the Hail Mary pass every day,” he said, defending his decision to vote against an extension of the payroll tax cut in February on the grounds that it will increase the federal deficit.
“I understand that politics doesn’t work that way. Three yards and a cloud of dust is going to get my ‘yes’ vote — we just have to move the ball forward and I’m there. I just thought that vote moved the ball backwards.”
Woodall has also refused to sign the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” pushed by conservative anti-tax icon Grover Norquist, although he expressed admiration for its intent.
“As I read the pledge, it said that any time you reduce tax exemptions, you have to reduce the rates at the same time so that you don’t have a net tax increase,” Woodall said.
“I get that … But I don’t think we could get the votes to lower the entire rate structure by one-tenth of 1 percent to make up the difference every time. We have to take the victories where we can get them,” he said.
Long a familiar face to House members and staff, Woodall started at the “very bottom rung” when he joined Linder’s office on Oct. 17, 1994, as a legislative correspondent who took care of the computer systems.
He praised the Hill staff assistants who answer constituent phone calls and called their day-to-day casework the most important aspect of Hill life.
“For a small-government conservative, what could be better than taking that phone call from somebody where the government has its foot on their neck and they just want a little relief?” he said.
And just weeks after he started, Woodall saw Republicans retake the House and Newt Gingrich, whom he called Linder’s “best friend” at the time, become Speaker.
Reflecting on the wave election, Woodall compared his freshmen peers favorably against those who were swept into office in 1994.
“What I love about my [freshmen] colleagues is I honestly believe that folks are more interested in doing the right thing … than they are in playing the political game and trying to win the next election,” he said.
“I think Newt would be the first to say that during those years … you were just trying to win the next election so that you could fulfill [your] responsibilities then. There’s always a reason to put things off until the future, and what I learned is that, no, you have to give folks a reason to want you there.
“This business we’re in is not about elections. It’s about results,” he said.