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Linder opponent takes aim at 'fair tax'

ATLANTA - U.S. Rep. John Linder built additional public momentum during the 109th Congress for his signature issue, the "fair tax'' - replacing the federal income tax with a national sales tax.

But despite a meeting with President Bush to push the proposal, the Duluth lawmaker still couldn't get it through the House, let alone before the Senate.

Now, a businessman from Lawrenceville is working to sink the bill for good by unseating Linder after 14 years in office and becoming part of the first Democratic majority in the House in a dozen years.

Allan Burns, 56, is Linder's first opponent since 2002, when he knocked off former Rep. Bob Barr in the Republican primary after Democratic mapmakers in the General Assembly tried to make mischief by putting the two in the same district.

The 7th Congressional District has been redrawn again - this time by the Legislature's Republican majority - giving Linder a big advantage. It includes northern Newton County, most of Gwinnett County and all of Barrow and Walton counties, a region replete with GOP voters.

It's a group that generally is sympathetic toward any plan that abolishes the Internal Revenue Service.

That's what the fair tax would do, replacing the lost income tax funds dollar for dollar with a 23 percent sales tax, the rate the bill's supporters say would be needed to make the measure "revenue neutral.''

Linder, 64, wrote a bestseller on the issue last year with popular syndicated radio talk show host Neal Boortz. This year, the congressman has been on the road promoting the bill and drawing enthusiastic crowds.

Linder said he's not discouraged by the tough sledding the fair tax is encountering in Congress.

"Great ideas take a lot of time,'' he said. "You've got to educate the public, and that's what we're doing.''

The concept behind the fair tax is to stimulate economic growth by shifting taxation from income to consumption. Such a shift would encourage Americans to save and invest more of their money.

Burns said the legislation might be good for wealthy Americans, who have disposable income for investing. And it wouldn't hurt poor people, he said, because of a "prebate'' provision that in effect would exempt them from the tax.

But Burns said the middle class better watch out.

"For people who make anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 a year and spend most of what they earn, it's going to raise taxes,''

he said.

Major differences

Linder and Burns' differences go far beyond the

fair tax.

They disagree on a host of issues facing Congress from health care to immigration to the war in Iraq.

Burns said the ultimate solution to the growing number of Americans without health insurance lies in converting to a single-payer system, similar to what has long been in effect in other industrialized nations, basically an expansion of Medicare to cover patients of all ages.

But Linder said such systems don't work well where they have been adopted.

"Every nation that has socialized medicine has two systems - one for the rich and one for the rest,'' he said.

Linder blamed the Senate for Congress' failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year.

The House passed an enforcement-heavy bill last December that would have made it a felony for people to be in this country

illegally.

The Senate responded last spring with a measure that would have given the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants here now a pathway to citizenship. Neither side would compromise, dooming comprehensive reform.

Linder said amnesty for illegal immigrants was the wrong approach, while the narrower bill that the House and Senate finally did agree on - to build about 700 additional miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border - was the right way to go.

"If you've got a house full of flies, the first thing you do is shut the windows,'' he said.

But Burns said the fence bill was "political grandstanding'' that will be less effective than simply increasing the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents and giving them better surveillance equipment.

He said helping illegal immigrants become assimilated into American society would be both more realistic and more productive than trying to throw them out of the country.

"They're contributing to our economy,'' he said. "We have certain industries that would virtually go away if we could suddenly round them up ... and deport them.''

Burns also called on the Bush administration to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

"It's a mess,'' he said. "I'm not sure it's going to end well whether we stay six months or six years.''

But Linder said setting a timetable would simply encourage Iraqi insurgents to wait out the Americans.

Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats to take control of the House.

Burns said a Democratic majority would be more likely than House Republicans have been to hold

the Bush administration accountable and move more aggressively to develop alternative sources of

energy.

Linder said a Democratic House would try to eliminate the president's tax cuts, which would hurt the

economy.