House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp released his long-awaited rewrite of the nation’s tax code into a hostile political environment Wednesday afternoon, earning plaudits for his audacity, but little backing for moving the plan this year.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and top party leaders received Camp with pats on the back, but largely kept their hands off the substance of the bill.
“Chairman Camp’s worked on this for years. It’s time to have a public discussion about the issue of tax reform, and so I welcome the conversation,” Boehner told reporters earlier in the day. Camp has pushed the issue for years, but as Congress staggered from crisis to crisis, a real opportunity to restructure the tax code never materialized. This year’s climate is no more welcoming for the broad proposal. Work on big, bipartisan proposals has all but halted for the year in favor of election-year politicking, and Camp lost a willing bipartisan ally in ex-Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who left the chamber last month to become the ambassador to China.
While unveiling the proposal at a press conference, Camp said he did not want to wait any longer.
“I don’t think we can afford to wait,” he said. “I think we need to be the party of growth, opportunity restoring the American Dream, and I think this is something Americans have hungered for. Look, we have an obligation to debate the big issues of the day.”
In a way, some GOP aides said, the move represents the swan song of Camp’s chairmanship. He is subject to Republican chairmanship term limits, and so members and staffers widely presume that he will cede the gavel next year to Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
The proposal, then, is the culmination of nearly three years of toiling in the arcane scripture of the tax code, and represents a starting point for Ryan — if he indeed takes the chairmanship next year and wants to start his own negotiations with Camp’s framework.
Ryan, like Boehner, applauded Camp for putting forth the proposal, but stopped short of fully endorsing it.
“If you wait for a perfect time to put a big idea on the table, you’ll never put a big idea on the table,” he told reporters. “There’s never a perfect time to lead. That’s why I think leaders should just put ideas on the table and say what they’re for and what they’re trying to accomplish.”
In a statement later in the day, Ryan called Camp’s plan a “terrific first step.”
The plan is not without political complications on both sides of the aisle. As Ryan’s budget has called for, it lowers the top tax rate to 25 percent, although there is a surcharge on the wealthy. House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said doing so would only help multimillionaires, and ridiculed Republicans’ timidity in accepting Camp’s plan.
“You can’t thump your chest and say you’ve got a budget that reduces the top rate to 25 percent and then not do anything,” he said. “The Republican plan is to reduce the top rate to 25 percent. That gives multimillionaires huge tax break windfalls. But that’s their plan, and so it’s hard for them to run away from this when that’s what their budget calls for.”
Camp’s plan also calls for a tax on financial institutions and a surcharge on income over $450,000, which are not popular ideas among Republicans.
The plan borrows some ideas from President Barack Obama and Democrats, but Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer said in a statement that it would be “dead on arrival” in the chamber because it eliminates popular deductions for state and local taxes — a key issue in Schumer's New York.
As a result, Camp’s fellow committee Republicans, Reps. Tom Price of Georgia and Charles Boustany of Louisiana, both conceded that the plan is unlikely to pass this year, but said it is a good starting point for what could be years more of talks.
Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., said if the plan can attract broad support, it could be worth putting it to a vote, if only to draw a distinction between Republican and Democratic ideas on the topic.
“If it’s something that we all can get behind, I would love to do it, not just drop it in as a draft, you know, get it through committee and bring it on up and have something we can wave and say, ‘This is what we stand for,’ even though it dies in the Senate,” he said.