IN calling for a sweeping reform of the American tax system, President Reagan has set the stage for what promises to be a historic and comprehensive battle in Congress. Few Americans would disagree that a fundamental examination of the tax code is long overdue. Surely, Mr. Reagan expressed the attitudes of millions of taxpayers when he argued that the present tax system has become ``complicated, unfair, cluttered with gobbledygook and loopholes designed for those with the power and influence to hire high-priced legal and tax advisers.'' Unfortunately, many persons of considerable income, as the President noted, have been able to escape paying taxes, or pay at levels far below their fair share of wealth or income. That is also true for many businesses. That is why the call for tax reform has become a broad-based and -- as a Democratic congressman, Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois, pointed out in his response to President Reagan Tuesday night -- a bipartisan concern.
What the American public and Congress must now ask is whether Mr. Reagan's sweeping tax-reform plan -- a plan that he dubs ``America's Tax Plan'' -- does what the President says it will do; that is, foster simplicity, fairness, and a better allocation of the nation's economic resources.
What needs to be kept in clear focus is that Mr. Reagan's plan represents a wholesale restructuring of a tax code that has evolved over more than 50 years. Loopholes abound. Some are justified. But surely, many are not. No person or corporation should escape paying its fair share of taxes. But should the whole tax system be thrown out to go after the relatively few who manage to escape fair taxation? The logical alternative to Mr. Reagan's sweeping plan would be to close the most blatant loopholes at this juncture -- on a case-by-case basis -- pending a genuine long-range reform of the tax code that avoids the creation of more problems than currently exist within the system.