WASHINGTON – The top tax policy mavens in the House and Senate are partnering in an effort to rewrite and simplify the nation’s 4,000-page code and doing everything possible to generate enthusiasm for what promises to be a herculean effort.
Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, have together expressed an urgency to reform the Internal Revenue Code and have been discussing the possibility with their respective panel members for several months.
Camp and Baucus have launched a website, taxreform.gov, to obtain recommendations from the public on how to proceed and are conducting a series of hearings on the issue, the latest coming Thursday when Camp took his Ways and Means panel on a tour of the sexy issues of tax havens, base erosion, and profit shifting.
The pair also has announced plans to tour the country.
“I don’t think we have a lot of time to wait,” said Camp, adding that he and Baucus have been working on the effort, both jointly and separately, for several years.
The pressure to do something, Camp said, comes from “the fact that a quarter of the kids coming out of college can’t find a job, the fact that there are the highest number of people since the Carter administration who just stopped looking for work and then even if you have a job you may not have had a wage increase in a while.”
“So that is what’s really driving me on this — the jobs and the economy issue and also the complexity of the code,” he said. “Obviously we’re both committed to making this a reality because we can’t afford to wait. We think the time is now.”
There’s another reason time must be now for Camp and Baucus, who have become friends as a result of the process. Baucus is retiring and will leave office after the 2014 elections. And Camp is term-limited as chairman of the tax-writing panel.
Baucus noted that tax reform hasn’t been successfully undertaken since 1986. Since then, the tax code has been amended 15,000 times.
“The barnacles have grown back up again,” Baucus said.
“Each year goes by we’ve had more exceptions, correlations, modifications and so forth that different groups want and basically Congress goes along with it,” Baucus said. “It’s all built up.”
Just what form this version of reform might take remains to be worked out, although the lawmakers already agree on several points. Both are striving to simplify a tax code that, for instance, contains 43 different definitions of what constitutes a small business.
“There are so many good simplification policies that we agree on,” Camp said. “One of the things that 80 percent of Americans agree with is the code is too complicated. I think the average person should be able to fill out their own taxes. Small businesses, 90 percent of them, have to have preparers because they’re afraid they’re going to get audited.”
Camp and Baucus agree that the nation’s corporate tax rate of 35 percent, the world’s highest, desperately needs to be reduced. The current structure, Baucus said, encourages corporations to “put plants overseas.”