Is there a way to allow a discount to eliminate the entire cost of the parts on an order?

If you add the custom business rule:  <SINGLEUSEDISCOUNTSATCOST>TRUE</SINGLEUSEDISCOUNTSATCOST> then the answer is YES.  When this rule exists the system will allow a single use discount code to reduce the subtotal of an order to zero.  This rule works in conjunction with  <SINGLEUSEDISCOUNTS>TRUE</SINGLEUSEDISCOUNTS>.   For example, you sell a $40 off coupon for $20 (ala groupon).  The consumer comes to your site and puts a $39 item in the shopping cart.  This item may have $9 in shipping and $5 of tax along with it.  The new business rule will reduce the sub total to 0 but will charge the consumer shipping only (no tax will be charged because they paid 0 for the item and thus there is no tax to report.

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