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House Tax Overhaul Process Divides Parties

For one thing, the House GOP provided fodder for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) pledge to change Senate rules on the opening day of the next Congress to do away with filibusters on motions to proceed to the consideration of any bill. The House bill not only bars a filibuster against considering the tax reform bill in the Senate but goes much further by providing for automatically going to conference on the bill and appointing conferees - motions now subject to filibuster.

While Dreier and Camp probably did not intend to lend moral support to Reid's crusade, their press statement nevertheless reflects a growing frustration in the House over its bills going nowhere in the Senate.

The hasty scheduling of the tax process bill, without hearings or Senate coordination, is obviously geared to the fall election campaigns and Republican efforts to draw a connection between reducing the complexity of the tax code and creating jobs.

Moreover, the bill establishes certain criteria for a tax overhaul that also reflect Republican themes. For the bill to qualify for consideration under expedited procedures, it must: reduce the number of individual tax brackets from six to two with rates of 10 percent and not more than 25 percent; reduce the corporate tax rate to not more than 25 percent; repeal the alternative minimum tax; and broaden the tax base to maintain revenues of 18 percent to 19 percent of the gross domestic product.

House Democrats countered with a substitute set of principles: distribute the tax burden in a more progressive manner that would increase revenue significantly; spend more on infrastructure, education, research and defense; and preserve tax incentives for middle-class home ownership, education, retirement savings and health care.

Not surprisingly, no Republicans voted for the Democratic substitute and no Democrats voted for the Republican bill. The bright lines drawn between the parties become slogans on banners held high by sparring partisans marching to battle - their fall campaign frippery flapping.

Don Wolfensberger is a senior scholar at  the Woodrow Wilson Center, a resident scholar with the Bipartisan Policy Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.

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