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Bush touts Estonia's flat tax

President Bush says the United States should have a simpler tax system. Apparently he has found one he likes - Estonia's.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush says the United States should have a simpler tax system. Apparently he has found one he likes - Estonia's.

In a brief stop in the Baltic nation on Tuesday, Bush managed to tout Estonia's flat income-tax three times.

"They've got a tax system here that is transparent, open and simple," Bush said in Tallinn after getting a look at how Estonian citizens can file their taxes online.

In a toast about an hour later to Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Bush said, "I am amazed to be in a country that has been able to effect a flat tax in such a positive way."

And before fielding reporters' questions with Ilves, Bush again praised Estonia's approach to taxation.

"I appreciate the fact that you got a flat tax, you got a tax system that's transparent and simple," he said.

Bush stopped in Estonia en route to a NATO summit in neighboring Latvia.

Back home, Bush has pledged to simplify the tax laws in the United States, which he calls a complicated mess. One idea is a flat tax, which taxes all income at a single rate and gets rid of deductions. Yet comprehensive reform of the U.S. tax system has gone nowhere in Congress.

Paperless cabinet meetings
Bush smiled and nodded - then nodded some more - as Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip enthusiastically explained how his government holds paperless Cabinet meetings.

The system, which uses digital signatures, permits legislation to be OK'd with the click of a mouse.

Ansip's explanation, though, was not as lickety split. He described in detail how the dozen members of the Cabinet - in a room dubbed the "Starship Enterprise" - can vote or make comments online. Cabinet meetings that used last about four to five hours now wrap up in about 30 minutes.

Bush endured the lengthy explanation, shifting his weight back and forth.

He seemed charmed by Estonia's use of the Internet in making daily life easier for its citizens.

"They've got an e-government system that should be the envy of a lot of nations," Bush said.

Bush received two gifts from his Estonian hosts: a glass sculpture and a Skype wireless phone that can be used to make calls over the Internet.

The country is often nicknamed "E-Stonia" for its booming high-tech industry, and it is the main hub of Skype, the Internet telephone company that eBay bought last year for $2.6 billion.

If the phone and accompanying headset Bush received illustrated Estonia's technological savvy, the other one represented its yearning for light during the dark winter months.

Titled "Northern Light," the sculpture symbolizes "the Nordic freshness and crispness, the longing for light during lasting dark periods, strength of purpose and perseverance," the Estonian government said.

First lady's commitment
Bush said he was honored to be the first sitting American president to visit Estonia, with one regret: his wife couldn't make the trip.

He told Ilves that first lady Laura Bush had an important schedule conflict at home.

"She's receiving the Christmas tree at the White House," Bush explained to the Estonian president.

Laura Bush received the tree from a Pennsylvania family on Monday in the Blue Room. The event is the ceremonial start to the holiday season and considered a big deal at the White House.