The payroll tax deal that became law this month attracted a slew of headlines. There was election-year politics as Democrats seized on the issue. Republicans, meanwhile, had to backtrack from their demands to offset the tax cut.
But the overlooked story was how two low-key but powerful lawmakers struck the deal.
Amid noise from the left and the right, Camp and Baucus hashed out the deal that extended the payroll tax cut until the end of this year.
Senate Republicans were not pleased, claiming they were shut out of the final negotiations. Some Democrats, meanwhile, decried the cuts to pensions for federal employees.
Yet the deal easily passed the House and cleared the Senate.
There are many similarities between Baucus and Camp. Both, on occasion, side with the other party.
Baucus worked with Republicans on President George W. Bush’s tax cuts and the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill.
In 2010, Camp was one of only six House Republicans to back a $15 billion Democratic jobs measure.
At the time, a Camp spokesman noted that Michigan’s unemployment rate had been the highest in the nation for the past four years.
Camp keeps a low profile, especially when compared to the previous Ways and Means chairmen, Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).
He doesn’t fire partisan barbs and is not a regular on the Sunday talk shows. He quietly gets things done, including three trade deals that President Obama repeatedly urged Congress to pass last year.
Baucus, for his part, is also a real legislator. He has taken arrows in the back from liberals for years of cooperation with Republicans. But he also was a leading critic of Bush’s Social Security reform plan in 2005.
Why is the Baucus-Camp relationship important? These two leaders will be in the room when final decisions are made on the expiring Bush tax rates during the lame-duck session this winter. They will also be major players on tax reform in the next Congress, though one or both of them might lose their panel gavel as a result of the Nov. 6 election.
Regardless, bipartisanship is required to move high-profile legislation. That is the case now, and will be next year when congressional majorities are expected to be relatively narrow.
Reforming the nation’s tax code will not be easy in the 113th Congress. After all, the last time a comprehensive tax overhaul passed was in 1986. It’s time for lawmakers to update the code, and Camp and Baucus might defy the odds and get it done.