We remember when the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee commanded the attention of both parties.
[Last week], Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, unveiled a serious plan to overhaul the broken federal tax code. Instead of stimulating a fruitful debate on how to fix one of this nation’s most pressing problems, Camp’s proposal fell flat.
Lawmakers from both parties barely took time to dismiss the Camp plan. Even House Speaker John Boehner wouldn’t give credence to a sincere effort at reform from a leader of his own party. It takes some nerve for Boehner to issue a press release, as he did Thursday, with the headline, “While Dems sit on the sidelines, we'll continue to lead.”
Camp is one of the most influential policymakers in the House. He has headed Ways and Means for three years.
People used to automatically put the adjective “powerful” before the proper noun “Ways and Means.”
But here’s what’s powerful now. It’s not Ways and Means, its Fear and Opportunism.
Many members of both parties fear any talk of tax reform, just as they fear entitlement reform.
The GOP sees opportunity in a 2014 election that’s focused on the Affordable Care Act. Party strategists want nothing to distract from voter anger over Obamacare, which Republicans view as a ticket to victory.
Democrats see opportunity in the issue of economic inequality. A successful negotiation – heck, any negotiation – on tax reform wouldn’t fit the script.
And, of course, Democrats don’t trust Republicans and Republicans don’t trust Democrats to negotiate in good faith on anything.
So Democrats and Republicans found common cause in quickly dismissing Camp’s proposal. It’s dead.
Too bad, because Camp’s plan is comprehensive and, in at least a few of the choices it makes, smacks of bipartisanship. It embraces the key principle of broadening the tax base by eliminating special-interest loopholes, credits and carve-outs, while reducing tax rates for individuals and companies.
It is insane for Americans to spend more than 6 billion hours and $168 billion a year to file their tax returns – that’s the latest estimate from the Internal Revenue Service’s National Taxpayer Advocate. The tax code keeps getting more complicated, while other nations have simplified their systems.
Based on an analysis by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, Camp’s Tax Reform Act of 2014 would create up to 1.8 million private-sector jobs. It would boost gross domestic product by up to $3.4 trillion, the equivalent of a 20 percent gain over today’s economy. It would stimulate that growth without boosting the federal budget deficit.
The average middle-class family of four could wind up with an extra $1,300 a year from the combination of lower tax rates in the plan and higher wages due to a stronger economy, according to the committee. Roughly 95 percent of filers could get the lowest possible rate without itemizing, tracking receipts or hiring accountants to work the system for them.
The reaction to Camp’s plan is an indication that Congress plans to waste yet another year.
Have the Beltway strategists miscalculated? Maybe the voting public is sick of callowness and timidity on Capitol Hill. Maybe the rallying cry in November won’t be about Obamacare, or inequality. Maybe it will be: “Throw the bums out.”