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Lost in the shuffle of House and Senate votes on the dueling Bush and Obama tax plans just before the August recess was a House vote on a bill to establish a process for considering comprehensive tax legislation next year. Congress is so accustomed to kicking the can down the road that it is at a loss over what to call an anticipatory can-catch (catch-as-can-can?).
No one realistically expected Congress to tackle a tax overhaul this year except, perhaps, as a puzzle piece to be shaped and fitted later as part of a grand budget bargain to avoid sequestration. That bit of sorcery would have left officials at the Congressional Budget Office scoring table scratching their heads, if only for a moment.
But that's apparently not what the House had in mind when it voted 232-189 on Aug. 2 to pass the Pathway to Job Creation Through a Simpler, Fairer Tax Code Act. The bill's authors, Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) and Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), should at least be commended for not trying to create another clever acronym for their bill's title. (You try to pronounce PJCTSFTCA.)
In a joint press release, the sponsors explained their purpose was to establish "expedited procedures" that "will enable lawmakers in both the House and Senate to overcome multiple technical hurdles that often cause bills to languish during the legislative process."
Under the bill, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee would be required to introduce a tax overhaul bill by April 30, 2013. The committee would have 20 calendar days to report it or it would be discharged. If the bill is not called up by adoption of a special rule from the Rules Committee within 15 legislative days, it would be privileged for consideration under an open amendment process. If, on the other hand, the Rules Committee acts first, it could still bar or limit floor amendments.
Once passed by the House, the bill would go to the Senate Finance Committee, which would have 15 calendar days to report, or it would be discharged. A motion to proceed to floor consideration would not be debatable (i.e., subject to filibuster). Amendments would have to be germane and would also be filibuster-proof by being limited to two hours of debate each. There would be no limit on total debate time in the Senate, meaning a cloture motion might still be required to bring the measure to a final vote. However, motions to agree to a conference in the Senate, or request one, and to appoint conferees, would be automatically agreed to (self-executed).
The House effort to impose new rules on the Senate was a bold move because both chambers resent the other messing with its rules. Put another way, the bill as written doesn't have a snowball's chance in the Senate Cloakroom microwave. So, what did House Republicans hope to gain by passing it?