By Juan Williams - 03/10/14 06:00 AM EDT
Let us quickly, loudly and repeatedly praise a brave but lonely Republican Congressman. He is sticking his neck out to get something done in this do-nothing Congress. Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is the hero taking on the political inertia on both sides that has Congress locked in dysfunction.
In the last two weeks, Camp opened a promising door for Congressional Republicans and Democrats to join President Obama in reforming the tax code and spurring a faster economic recovery.
GOP leadership is telling Camp, whose term as chairman expires this year, that he does not understand politics, that the timing is wrong, that there is no chance for compromise in an election year. Democrats are treating him as if he is a problem for Republicans.
The bottom line is he is being shunned. Camp’s important bipartisan work, begun with the recently-retired Montana Democrat Sen. Max Baucus, is being put in the dustbin. The effort at breaking through the political logjam in Washington with much-needed tax reform is being left to wither away.
When he announced his tax reform plan at a one-man news conference, Camp gave a precise, simple description of his goal as a “simpler, fairer and flatter tax code.” His plan takes the current seven tax brackets and reduces them to “two brackets of 10 and 25 percent for virtually all taxable income, ensuring that 99 percent of taxpayers face maximum rates of 25 percent or less.”
The Camp tax plan is revenue-neutral according to Congress’ independent Joint Committee on Taxation. They see Camp’s reform producing sharp economic growth and close to two million jobs.
The Washington Post’s editorial page said the plan leans “in favor of GOP priorities to be sure, but incorporates some Democratic ones. And for all those reasons, no one on Capitol Hill seems interested.”
President Obama, in his State of the Union address in January, said “now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit.” The new White House budget includes overhauling the corporate tax code yet the president’s plan, like Camp’s, is being dismissed on Capitol Hill.
How about the juvenile response from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)? When he was asked about the specifics of the Camp plan he responded: “Blah, blah, blah.” He had nothing to offer on starting hearings and scheduling a vote.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) simply dismissed the Camp plan: “I think we will not be able to finish the job, regretfully. I don’t see how we can.”
Where are former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and her Tea Party allies? Palin once said the “Tea” in Tea Party stood for “Taxed Enough Already.”
It is as if Camp and his daring ideas don’t exist.
Democrats have shut the door on Camp, too.
Where is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) support for a timetable for a floor vote? When will the new Senate Finance Chair, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) schedule hearings?
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) dismissed the plan by launching a political attack on Republicans. “Any proposal that eliminates the deduction for state and local taxes, as the Republican plan would do, is dead on arrival,” he said.
Camp started this “tilting at windmills” crusade when he bucked his party’s leadership and insisted on releasing a tax reform package that he says will raise $126.5 billion over eight years to repair the nation’s bridges, highways, train and bus service as well as improve ports.
Obama last week proposed a bill that also calls for tax reforms to put $150 billion into a four-year, $300 billion plan to restore the nation’s transportation system. The potential for a deal is there.
In polls, Democrats and Republicans nationwide also agree on the need for tax reform. A Pew poll last year showed 75 percent of Republicans saying the tax system is in need of change and 69 percent of Democrats in agreement.
The facts of the Camp plan invite a deal.
It does not raise taxes. That is the GOP’s gold standard for reform. It does not lead to cuts in spending on entitlement programs. That is the Democrats’ requirement for a new tax system.
It also allows the rival parties to renew talks on all the bills stuck in no-man’s land for lack of funding, notably infrastructure projects that both parties support.
The political pieces are in place to create a rare moment in which this polarized, broken Congress could really get something done. But the forces of political inertia are killing it off.
The only hope for the congressman is for the public — as well as the business community and everyone else interested in a better economy — to stand up and speak out in favor of keeping tax reform alive.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.