Camp: Tax reform might be delayed

The House’s top tax writer on Wednesday said he might not keep his promise to mark up an overhaul of the nation’s tax laws in 2013, dealing a setback to a reform effort that was already facing long odds at success.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) told reporters he is still aiming to pass a tax overhaul out of his committee in 2013.

But Camp and other senior Republican tax writers admitted the committee faced serious obstacles — including the shrinking legislative calendar — in reaching that goal.

“Clearly, we lost time with the [government] shutdown,” Camp said. “That was three weeks I’d like to have back. So we have to adjust given changing circumstances.”
 
“But I very much have wanted to stick to that — certainly to have the bill ready, and to be able to move forward this year, if we can,” he added.

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Camp is scheduled to meet Thursday with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to talk tax reform, with other committee members also expected to be in attendance.

The meeting is a big moment for Camp, who has been insisting for a year that 2013 would be the year that his panel marked up a broad revamp of the tax code, in part because getting such major legislation across the finish line in an election year would be a long shot.

House GOP leaders set aside the symbolically important H.R. 1 for tax reform but have privately voiced concerns about bringing the issue to the forefront now, according to lobbyists and congressional aides.

Sources say GOP leaders fear taking attention away from the flawed rollout of President Obama’s healthcare law, which has helped Republicans regain their political footing after the government shutdown.

In addition to their ObamaCare concerns, lobbyists and aides say privately that GOP leaders don’t want tax reform to step on the current budget conference, which has until Dec. 13 to strike a deal.

Democrats and Republicans on the budget panel have been sparring for weeks about whether a deal to roll back automatic sequestration cuts should include revenue from scrapping tax breaks, with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) arguing that those provisions should be dealt with in tax reform.

GOP leaders are also said to have reservations about pressing ahead with a bill that almost by definition would have to slash popular tax incentives.

Those concerns, and the dwindling number of days left in the year, indicate the window might be closing for lawmakers who are seeking the first full-scale overhaul of the tax code since 1986.

The House is only scheduled to be in Washington three more full weeks this year, giving Camp little time to act on the complex legislation before 2014.

Still, the Ways and Means Committee chairman said Wednesday that he has yet to really consider ways besides a markup to push tax reform ahead this year.

He also declined to say how close Republicans on the panel were to finishing off their bill, though Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.), a senior committee member, separately told reporters that they were “very close.”

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is leading the tax reform push in the Senate as Finance Committee chairman, isn’t throwing in the towel, either.

He is expected to huddle on Thursday with members of the panel to discuss releasing discussion drafts in the coming weeks on areas like international tax laws.

Washington’s tax observers have long viewed Camp as being further along in his efforts on reform, especially after Senate Democratic leaders scoffed at the idea of comprehensive reform this summer.
   
Camp is trying to reduce the top corporate and individual rates to 25 percent, a prospect that forces tax writers to take a deep look at provisions like the deduction for state and local taxes, and charitable contributions.

"They have every right to have me talk to them about not only the substance of the bill, but timing and strategy," Camp said Wednesday about House leadership. "And things do change around here. And I think you have to look at the timing and circumstances you’re in.”
 
Top Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee have said in recent days that they don’t want the tax reform push on their side of the Capitol to undermine Camp’s work.

“We know that Chairman Camp is desirous of putting forth a bill over in the House. We’re all watching that carefully,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), the top Republican on the Finance panel, said Tuesday.  “We’re very sensitive to the effort he has to make.”
 
Baucus on Wednesday said he does not believe the budget conference should use revenue from tax breaks in a deal — a stance that again puts him at odds with leaders like Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

"I think that it all should be included to the context of reform,” Baucus said. “These pieces all fit together. We should not be acting piecemeal."
 
Republicans on Ways and Means Committee, exiting a Wednesday meeting in which former Treasury Secretary James Baker gave them a pep talk on tax reform, generally deferred to Camp in discussing the prospects for tax reform this year.
 
But Boustany acknowledged that it would be challenging to push a bill through the committee in 2013.
 
“The ObamaCare thing is clearly dominating,” Boustany said. “We have to see how that plays out.”
 
— Russell Berman and Peter Schroeder contributed.
— This story was first posted at 1:56 p.m. and has been updated.