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Rubio, Lee Unveil Tax Code Overhaul, Welcome Critics

Lee and Rubio prepare to hold a news conference on their tax plan rollout. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Say this much about Sen. Marco Rubio: He's not afraid to put ideas on the table.  

The Florida Republican joined Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to present an outline for overhauling the tax code Wednesday morning that — scored statically and in a vacuum — would be sure to reduce the government's revenue by tens of billions of dollars and eliminate or restrict a slew of popular tax credits and deductions.  

But, the pair is floating a white paper and welcoming the critics, even if it would expose them to criticism in future political endeavors. Both Lee and Rubio have Senate seats that are up for re-election in 2016, and Rubio appears to be laying the groundwork for a White House bid.  

"I don't know a way to explain to people what you stand for unless you tell them. I mean, I've tried to govern myself in my entire time in public service by being specific about ideas. When I was the speaker of the Florida House we published a book with a hundred ideas and tried to implement every single one of them for Florida and had some significant success," Rubio said. "I spent all of last year outlining specific ideas of what I would do, and this is a part of it. I think everyone stands around saying we should reform taxes, but what does that mean?"  

"If in fact we've reached a point in our republic where being detailed about what you would do is a hindrance to winning an election, we're in bad shape," Rubio said.  

"Good politics will always follow good policy," Lee said. "We think this is good policy, and even though there may be those who are skeptical of this at least initially, we think this is good ... politically, any time you propose a policy change that would take us in a better direction."  

Rubio also told reporters it would be right to view the proposal as part of his record going forward.  

"No matter what I run for, whether it's the Senate or presidency, of course this will be part of our platform. You think I'm going to come up with a second tax plan?" Rubio said. "I hope, by the way, that ideas like this are embraced by everyone running for president, because I think our party needs to be pro-family, pro-growth party."  

To be sure, the two Republicans dispute the idea that the tax overhaul should not take into account the future growth potential, effectively acknowledging the large cost that would undoubtedly come with their ideas if drafted into legislative language using traditional Congressional Budget Office scoring methods.  

"I think it's unfair to score a pro-growth tax plan without taking into account growth, so I think it has to be scored dynamically in order to have an accurate assessment of it," said Rubio. "This by itself is not enough. In addition to this we need to do entitle reform. We need to save Social Security and Medicare. These are important programs. My mother's on Social Security and Medicare, and the only way we're going to save it is if people in our generation ... our generation's going to have to accept that our Medicare and our Social Security's going to be different than our parents. It's still going to be the best thing in the world, but it's going to be different."  

"In this white paper, we outline a federal tax reform proposal that will resolve these major problems in the tax code. On the individual side, this proposal will eliminate the parent tax penalty, a crucial first step to restoring fairness to middle-income families. By simplifying the structure of the tax code, this proposal will also reduce the burden of confusing choices and excessive paperwork. Most itemized deductions will be removed, and those that remain will be accessible to all filers," the senators wrote in their plan .  

The two senators have been working together for a while now, and they outlined their plan in a Wednesday opinion piece  in the Wall Street Journal, which is highlighted by having only two individual income tax brackets (15 and 35 percent) and a single-business tax bracket (25 percent). The lower rate would apply to income up to $75,000 per individual or $150,000 for a married couple. The outline would also allow businesses to deduct expenses like equipment upgrades right away. Lee and Rubio would establish a new $2,500 child credit while whacking many credits and deductions.  

And there are sure to be critics who would lose their tax preferences too.  

"Sure, if your question is whether there are going to be people who like some of the provisions of the code that we would like to eliminate, yeah absolutely. But, I think if you asked most Americans, most hardworking Americans, they would like to see more simplicity, and that's what we're trying to achieve," Lee said.  

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