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FairTax supporters rally near Capitol

ATLANTA - With America's annual tax filing deadline less than two weeks away, several Georgia congressional Republicans on Tuesday called on their colleagues to pass legislation replacing the federal income tax with a national sales tax.

But the "FairTax" bill, which languished for years while the GOP controlled Congress, faces an even steeper uphill climb now that Democrats are in power on Capitol Hill.

"Guess what's 12 days from today?" U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., asked a crowd of about 200 FairTax supporters at a rally near the state Capitol, drawing some boos from the audience. "One thing the FairTax is going to do is make April 15 just another day in our lives."

Chambliss introduced a Senate version of the FairTax last week. It joins the House bill, reintroduced in January by U.S. Rep. John Linder, R-Duluth, the chief congressional architect of the proposal.

Linder, who wrote a book on the subject in 2005 with nationally syndicated radio talk show host Neal Boortz, said momentum is building for the FairTax in Congress, even with Democrats in the majority.

He said, just three months into the new term, the bill has 57 co-sponsors in the House including Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell, who also spoke at Tuesday's rally. That's about the same level of support it took Linder two years to get during the last congressional term.

Linder said lawmakers are lining up behind the FairTax because there's a popular outcry for it.

"These people are coming to us because people in their communities are coming up to them," he said. "We're hearing it everywhere in the country."

The bill would repeal all forms of the federal income tax - both personal and corporate - as well as the capital gains and estate taxes, replacing the revenue with a tax on retail sales of new goods and services.

To raise the same amount of tax revenue as the current system, the bill's sponsors say the new sales tax would have to be set at 23 percent.

But some studies dispute that figure. Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation, for example, concluded that a sales tax rate of 57 percent would be needed to make the FairTax "revenue neutral." Other researchers have put the figure even higher.

Other critics of the FairTax argue the legislation would place a greater tax burden on low-income Americans, who spend a larger portion of their income than high-income taxpayers. That is among the conclusions of a report from Georgia State University's Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.

Beyond the policy debate is the politics of the FairTax.

Linder's bill failed to generate widespread support with Republicans holding power both in Congress and the White House. In fact, a tax reform commission created by President Bush rejected the proposal.

Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University, said its prospects look even worse with Democrats running the House and Senate.

"There's no way the FairTax can pass this Congress," he said. "It gives too much political ammunition to Democratic opponents, who would argue that this isn't a 'fair' tax."

But Herman Cain, who made the FairTax a key part of his Republican primary campaign for the Senate in 2004, urged supporters at Tuesday's rally to keep believing in their cause.

"What if the Founding Fathers had said, 'We will never be independent?'" he asked the crowd in closing Tuesday's rally. "We wouldn't be here today."