LAS VEGAS — Sen. Ted Cruz has been gunning to abolish the Internal Revenue Service since coming to Washington two years ago.
To critics of the Texas Republican in Democratic and GOP circles, it sounds like bluster. The fiery rhetoric garners hearty applause from conservative audiences, particularly since revelations in 2013 that the IRS targeted Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny. But some federal agency is going to have to collect taxes, so Cruz's vow to shutter the IRS smacks of a politically motivated campaign promise rather than serious policy — at least to some.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner on Friday, the 2016 presidential candidate began to put some meat on the bones. Cruz, 44, explained how "abolishing the IRS" fits into his proposal, still being crafted by his team of economic advisors, for wholesale tax reform. This proposal, which Cruz plans to unveil later this year, is a key plank in his domestic agenda for economic growth that he would pursue as president.
"When it comes to jobs and growth and opportunity, the two most effective levers that the federal government has to facilitate small businesses creating new jobs, are tax reform and regulatory reform," Cruz said late last week, during a 20-minute discussion while on a brief swing through Las Vegas. "I am campaigning on a flat tax that would allow every American to fill out his or her taxes on a post card that allow us to abolish the IRS."
Cruz said he envisions shifting the tracking and collection of federal taxes to "some much smaller division" of the Treasury Department. The senator said that replacing the current, complex tax code with a simple flat tax would eliminate most of the work the IRS needs to do, making the agency obsolete and "irrelevant."
In its purest form, a "flat tax" treats all taxpayers equally. Income is taxed at the same rate regardless of earnings or wealth, while allowing for no tax deductions or exemptions. But Cruz said his flat tax proposal might allow some deductions, possibly for popular write-offs like for charitable donations and mortgage interest charged on a primary residence, paid annually by homeowners.
"We will roll it out with precise details in the coming weeks or months," he said. "There are trade-offs to be had and we're right now internally having those debates, in terms of whether you have a couple of deductions or exemptions or not, at what rate the flat rate is set, what level of standard deductions and so those trade-offs we're currently debating."
Cruz said the theme of his campaign rests on restoring Americans' optimism for the future, as defined by three elements: "No. 1, bringing back jobs and growth and opportunity; No. 2., defending our constitutional liberties and No. 3, restoring America's leadership in the world."
The Texan emphasized that regulatory reform was just as important as tax reform in satisfying his top goal of igniting the economy and fueling job growth. Unlike his plans for tax reform, which would presumably require congressional sign-off, Cruz said he could pursue a significant amount of regulatory reform through his executive authority, and that he would do so aggressively during his first 100 days as president.
Cruz said that Washington has implemented reams of regulatory rules that executive branch bureaucrats wrote on their own, outside of the legislative process and without the approval of Congress. Accordingly, the senator, who has at times criticized President Obama for overstepping his executive authority, said that he would use his executive authority to roll many of these regulations back.
"One major area of unilateral steps concerns regulatory reform, the second half of job growth," Cruz said, explaining his views on where it's appropriate for a president to govern by executive action.
"There are a great many things that can be implemented unilaterally in the executive," he said. "The president, under Article II of Constitution, is charged with executing the laws. Many of the most burdensome rules coming from Washington come from the executive branch from unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats and if I'm elected president, one of the very top priorities is going to be to rein back those regulations, those executive orders, those rules from Washington that are burdening small businesses and killing jobs."