Wyden, Coats envision prominent upcoming role for tax reform

While the two senators are looking toward fall for tax reform, Wyden also noted that it seemed, several times in recent weeks, that tax reform might be a major plank in a deficit deal to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

The so-called grand bargain that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) were negotiating and the Gang of Six framework both included a time frame for tax reform, given the complexity of revamping the code. And Wyden, a longtime proponent of a tax overhaul who often asserts that reform is a proven job creator, said that showed the interest among top policymakers.

“We were almost at the top of the roller coaster,” Wyden said.

The top tax writers in both chambers, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) have expressed interest in reform, as has the Obama administration.

Still, some lawmakers and officials also have expressed skepticism that tax reform can gain much of a toehold in the coming months, with the presidential election bound to dominate the landscape in 2012.

The tax reform push also has more than a couple roadblocks to overcome, including how to tax offshore profits and whether to examine the corporate and individual codes at the same time. (And that’s not even getting to the horse-trading over which tax credits and deductions would be sacrificed for lower rates.)

The Treasury Department has been working on an outline of a corporate tax overhaul, but Timothy Geithner, the department’s secretary, has said tax reform would be put to the back burner until the debt ceiling is dealt with. Geithner’s department has said the debt limit needs to be increased by Aug. 2.

Wyden and Coats’ legislation, which is an update of a measure the Oregon Democrat introduced last Congress with former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) – would, among other things, install a flat corporate rate of 24 percent and three individual brackets of 15 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent.

The two lawmakers signaled Wednesday that they hope the bill can be part of a larger push for reform, one that, if successful, would probably be hashed out at the top levels of policymaking.

“When this is done, this bill is not going to be named after Dan Coats or Ron Wyden,” the Oregon senator said. “But we believe we can help do a lot of the heavy lifting.”