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The Republican presidential candidates face off tonight, in another debate, this time in Las Vegas. The latest of several Republican frontrunners is Herman Cain. His 9-9-9 tax plan proposes a flat federal tax system. There would be a nine percent flat federal income tax, a nine percent national sales tax, and a nine percent business tax. The simplicity of that plan appears to be helping him in the polls, as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Herman Cain feels strongly about taxes.
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NOGUCHI: Debbie Abdel-Razzaq doesn't feel that strongly about taxes. But she says the Cain plan has lots of appeal.
DEBBIE ABDEL-RAZZAQ: It's simple. I think that's why people are drawn to it, because it's simple.
NOGUCHI: Abdel-Razzaq is in Washington from the Detroit area. On a drizzly day recently, she stood in line outside Washington's Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where the government prints money. Abdel-Razzaq says she supports President Obama, and is unemployed and would have to pay more with a flat tax, but she still loves Cain's idea of a snappier tax system.
ABDEL-RAZZAQ: I mean, because now, the way things are, it's like when you look at your income tax returns and everything it's like all these pages and pages of things that are just absolutely really hard to understand and decipher.
NOGUCHI: With his 9-9-9 plan, Herman Cain has made a simple slogan out of a complicated tax code. Tax experts on the left and the right are questioning the viability and efficacy of his plan. Many say it will raise tax burdens on the poor; others criticize it for adding a new tax stream. But speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, Cain defended it as having political support from voters.
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NOGUCHI: In fact, even people who know little or nothing about Herman Cain himself, seem familiar with his 9-9-9 plan.
ERIN CUMMINGS: To be honest, I haven't - I don't know too much about him.
NOGUCHI: Erin Cummings is a civil engineer from Kentucky. Her main beef with Cain's tax plan is that it actually sounds too good.
CUMMINGS: He could probably even raise that, like 15 percent. People would like that, I think.
NOGUCHI: Cummings says she personally still believes rich people and corporations should pay more. And she worries 9-9-9 might not raise enough to run the government.
CUMMINGS: Like it seems like we would have less revenue than we do now.
NOGUCHI: The Cain campaign argues it would raise the same amount of revenue. It would do so, they argue, by closing all loopholes and eliminating deductions. Even self-described liberals, like Damon Gasper of San Francisco, give kudos to Cain for his plan.
DAMON GASPER: Of all the nominations of the GOP, though, he's by far the best, just because it's something different. And he's a businessman.
NOGUCHI: The big problem, Gasper says, is he already pays eight and a half percent in state and local sales tax.
GASPER: Like California, like we get hammered on sales taxes. So you know, you can imagine that a nine percent tax on top of that, goods are going to be hard to buy, so consumers might not buy as much.
NOGUCHI: One person with unequivocal support for a flat tax is Yann Bosch, in town from Phoenix.
YANN BOSCH: I personally, I'd support that because, I feel it would be more fair if everyone paid the same amount, regardless of income.
NOGUCHI: Bosch just graduated from high school. His mother, Anne Boehler, chimed in to say actually, her son doesn't pay taxes at all, because as a student, he doesn't yet have income. Boehler, who grew up in France, is accustomed to the value-added tax, or VAT, which typically runs higher. Nine percent, she says, sounds like a pretty good deal to her.
Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.