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Income taxes may hold, but don't count out a new tax on sales

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The outcome of last week's election will not make management of economic policy easier. President Reagan won an impressive personal victory, coming close to a record in the percentage of the popular vote and a record high in the electoral college vote. But Republicans scored no such triumph in Congress, losing a net two seats in the Senate and gaining only 14 in the House, about half their '82 loss.

Some kind of tax package will go before Congress next year. The Treasury will report on its tax simplification proposals in December. It is widely felt that the President will propose some version of a flat tax, which, while revenue-neutral in theory, would be the Trojan horse of tax increase. That perception is not necessarily correct, since Mr. Reagan still appears to be standing by his campaign pledge not to raise individual income taxes.

There are, in fact, three reasons that taxes may not get raised in 1985. The first is that the President is not yet convinced of the need for making faster progress in reducing the federal budget deficit, with its causative links to high real interest rates and an overvalued dollar on foreign-exchange markets.

The second reason is that Democrats in Congress have little incentive to take the lead in trying to increase taxes, especially when it would take the President off the hook he put himself on during the campaign.

The third reason is that, if the economy continues to soften, a tax increase could be even worse than the deficit. One can hope that a tax increase would coincide with a push by the Federal Reserve to bring down interest rates. The size of any tax hike that could be agreed upon by both parties, however, is not likely to be significant enough to cause a drastic change in Fed policy.


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