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LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. — Give them credit for this much: The top congressional tax writers are doing their level best to push for an overhaul of the nation’s outdated tax code.
The problem for Baucus and Camp is not Americans’ lack of interest in seeing their taxes get simpler — and possibly lower — but in the stark ideological differences between rank- and-file lawmakers when it comes to tax issues. And the leaders of their respective parties have taken a wait-and-see approach to the bicameral effort, which has hampered momentum in the halls of Congress.
Still, the novelty of having two chairmen of different parties working together on such an ambitious political task has drawn national attention; several major publications sent reporters to the duo’s first event in Minneapolis on July 8, and NPR, The New York Times and CQ Roll Call were among those that made a trip to the Philadelphia area on Monday.
That sojourn took Baucus and Camp to a third-generation appliance retailer in suburban New Jersey for an event that felt more like the lonely travails of a long-shot candidate for president who has to appear interested — as Baucus and Camp did — in the latest oven technology.
“It makes a big difference to get out of Washington, believe me,” Baucus told local reporters during a truncated media availability after the event at the appliance retailer.
But Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a former Finance Committee head, said the two chairmen face tough odds, regardless of whether they travel outside the Beltway to drum up interest in a tax policy rewrite.
“It might not be productive, but in — in public policy, you never know for sure if something’s going to work. So, if there’s no known negative, you ought to do it. So, in this case there’s no known negative, so they ought to do it,” Grassley said. “I believe the necessity of tax reform is complicated. You gotta educate the public about it. The ideal thing would be to have tax reform be part of a presidential campaign, you know, where you get a mandate to do it.”
Grassley compared the effort to a 1998 campaign-style tour by former Republican Reps. Dick Armey of Texas and Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, who held a series of forums. Tauzin advocated for tossing out the 1986 tax code and replacing it with a national sales tax. Armey pushed for a flat-rate income tax. Neither was successful.