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Reagan Opens Drive to Reform 'Unfair' Taxes

September 03, 1985|KAREN TUMULTY | Times Staff Writer

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — President Reagan began his fall campaign for tax overhaul here Monday, saying he is "disgusted" with the existing tax system, which he called "unfair, unworkable and unproductive."

Reagan told the crowd at a Western-theme celebration that the nation "ought to take our current tax system out and string it up."

But, standing before a statue of former President Harry S. Truman on the steps of the county courthouse where Truman began his political career, the President conceded that it may be difficult to build public support behind an issue as complex as his tax plan.

'Like a Daily Mugging'

"In a democracy like ours, it's hard for us to get worked up and united over something unless it's truly dramatic, like a sensational murder," Reagan said. "Well, our tax is not a sensational murder--it's more like a daily mugging, and we've learned to live with it."

Reagan's tax package would lower overall income tax rates by increasing personal exemptions while eliminating many deductions offered under current law, including write-offs for state and local taxes and for second homes.

Although the Administration continues to insist that the plan can pass Congress this year, most on Capitol Hill say it probably cannot become law until next spring at the earliest.

Popular enthusiasm is widely seen as the only means of overcoming the powerful interest groups aligned against the proposal. To build public support for the plan, Reagan plans to draw upon his personal popularity, making about one trip a week for the next two months to cities across the country.

He made Monday's stop on his return to Washington from his 23-day vacation in Santa Barbara. On Thursday, he plans to take his tax-reform campaign to North Carolina.

In his first stump speech since cancer surgery seven weeks ago, Reagan made a pointed effort to dispel speculation that his illness may have sapped him of vigor and enthusiasm for pushing the tax plan.

'Back and Rarin' to Go'

"Those vested interests just hate it when we talk about reform, and they loved it when they thought I was laid up and out of action," Reagan said. "Well, I'm back and rarin' to go, up for the battle that has only just begun."

Reagan, jacketless and wearing a short-sleeved knit shirt, spoke in sweltering 95-degree heat before a crowd estimated by local authorities at between 15,000 and 20,000.

The President borrowed the "Fair Deal" theme from Truman's Democratic Administration, alternately describing the Administration proposal as "our fair-share tax plan" and "this good deal."

Opponents in 'Fat City'

In addition, he portrayed tax reform as an us-against-them issue. Reagan said the lobbies that oppose changing the tax system are in "fat city" and "share a kind of self-righteous self-interest."

The President, contending that the biggest winners from his tax plan would be those earning $20,000 a year or less, said: "We're going to keep the itemized deductions that speak directly to how Americans live their lives--the mortgage interest deduction on the house you live in and a deduction on charitable contributions and medical expenses. But silly or unproductive tax shelters will be eliminated in our tax reform."

"All this means an America bursting with economic opportunity, an America rolling out new jobs the way we used to roll Model Ts off the assembly line," Reagan said. "And all of this means a better chance for our kids and a first chance for those who've been denied economic power for too long."

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