WASHINGTON — The chairmen of the two tax-writing committees of Congress will hit the road together over the summer to promote a proposed revamp of the tax code, the two announced Friday.
Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., didn’t say what will be in the sweeping proposal to change the nation’s tax laws. “Stay tuned, it’s coming,” said Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and its longest-serving member.
To prepare for what they hope will be the first major overhaul of the tax code since the 1980s, the two said they’d travel together to several cities to listen and make the case for change.
“We’re going to talk to people, families, consumers, business groups . . . to get a better idea of what people are thinking,” Baucus said. The two men spoke at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.
When they’re not out in the country together, said Camp, who’s the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, they’ll hold bipartisan luncheons to address the concerns of lawmakers ahead of a proposal later this year.
The last time the Congress undertook a comprehensive rewrite of the tax code was 1986, and it was the culmination of a three-year process. That’s why many skeptics in Washington doubt there’s sufficient momentum for tax restructuring, much less for a hurried effort.
Despite representing parties with great philosophical differences, Baucus and Camp said they genuinely liked each other and were working to find middle ground. Both think the looming battle over raising the federal debt ceiling later this year, roughly mid-October, might be the vehicle for moving tax legislation.
The debt ceiling battle was expected to happen over the summer, but a stronger inflow of revenue has pushed that projected date into the fall.
If a tax overhaul doesn’t happen this year, Baucus said, it might not happen until after the 2016 presidential election. That’s because President Barack Obama won’t be on the ticket, so candidates within each major party will be jockeying for the presidency, leaving congressional action in limbo.
“I think it’s going to be very difficult to pass tax reform in that context,” Baucus said.
Both chairmen refused to say what they supported or what tax loopholes they’d propose closing. Camp focused instead on areas of agreement.
“There are so many good (tax) simplification policies that we agree on,” he said.
Asked whether they’ll propose limiting the mortgage-interest deduction that homeowners now enjoy, Camp acknowledged that two-thirds of Americans don’t itemize their federal taxes and said that perhaps a complete rethink was in order.
The only tax the two commented on directly was a carbon tax, which would be levied on carbon-emitting energy products.
“My mantra is – and I mean it – everything is on the table,” said Baucus adding that several senators have expressed interest to him in some form of a carbon tax. “It’s creeping up a little bit.”
Camp disagreed. “I don’t support the carbon tax,” he said.
The two chairmen also have jurisdiction over the Internal Revenue Service, and they repeated promises to get to the bottom of a blossoming scandal over the agency’s targeting of conservatives for extra scrutiny.
Camp said his staff had had preliminary interviews with IRS staffers and that his committee, which held high-profile hearings, would get important documents from the IRS soon.
“This is going to take time,” he said, likening it to a white-collar prosecution in which government documents are essential to making the case.
The two chairmen sidestepped commenting on a controversial proposal to be raised next week at the Group of Eight summit of leading industrialized nations. Concerned about global tax evasion, British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to force multinational companies to report their taxes on a country-by-country basis and shell companies to declare their beneficial owners.
“The G-8 summit should take advantage of the emerging international consensus that we can no longer allow profitable multinational corporations to play one country off another, ducking corporate taxes and leaving other taxpayers to pick up the slack,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said in a statement Friday.
Levin heads the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and hearings he’s held have alleged that big corporations such as Apple have skirted their tax obligations.
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