Camp to Obama: Let’s talk

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The House’s top tax writer is pointing to areas where he thinks he can work with President Obama, just days after releasing a comprehensive plan for overhauling the code.    

“My takeaway is, there are some common issues that we can address,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) told reporters Thursday after a hearing with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

For Camp, areas of possible agreement include streamlining an array of overlapping tax breaks for college tuition to pouring funds back into a nearly bankrupt highway trust fund — ideas that are both politically popular and have bipartisan support.

At Thursday’s hearing, Camp opened the door to seeking a more targeted measure on education taxes, after months of insisting he was only interested in a broad rewrite of the tax code.

He also noted some similarities between his proposal for the highway trust fund and provisions in Obama’s budget. And Camp even complimented Lew for continuing to back a corporate-only reform of the tax code, a path the Ways and Means Committee chairman has long said he didn’t want to go down.

“I think it’s important that we find a way to address some of our infrastructure needs,” Camp said Thursday. “I put a proposal there. Clearly, the administration has as well. And so, I think there’s an opportunity to talk about it and figure out if we can find a common road ahead.”

Those statements softened Camp’s earlier takes on the president’s budget and underscored that Democrats and Republicans are going to have to find common ground for Washington to make progress on tax reform.

The two parties have had a yearslong disagreement over whether tax reform should raise new revenue for the government, and it’s perhaps the primary reason tax reform has little chance to succeed this year.

But Camp, in his last scheduled year with the gavel, is desperately trying to boost momentum for tax reform, telling reporters this week that the rest of the election year is a long time for lawmakers to coast.

Camp has proposed collapsing several tax breaks for college tuition into a single credit, having built upon work from Reps. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.) that grew out of the committee's working groups last year.

The Ways and Means Committee chairman has also proposed channeling $126.5 billion in funds from a one-time tax on offshore corporate profits into the highway trust fund, which could go bankrupt in less than six months.

Obama has proposed expanding certain education credits, and his budget had a more than $300 million infrastructure plan that also uses revenue created from the corporate tax system.

There are other areas of overlap as well: Both Camp and Obama have proposed a tax on banks, for instance.

Still, there are also plenty of other areas where the president and the top GOP figure on tax policy aren’t on the same page.

Camp insisted this week he wouldn’t pare back popular tax breaks like the deduction for home mortgage interest in exchange for increased federal spending and panned the president’s budget for adding “more complexity to the tax code.”

Ray Beeman, a special adviser to Camp, also suggested the Ways and Means Committee chairman might not be that interested in breaking off chunks of his tax reform plan.

“This is where you have to be sort of careful between what’s common ground and what may look that way,” Beeman said on a webcast hosted by the tax advisory firm KPMG.

At Thursday’s hearing, Lew himself was cautious about how much common ground there might be.

“There, I think, is always room for conversation about what we can do to make the tax code more efficient, more effective, and easier for people to use,” Lew said.

“I do think that as we get to the conversation of comprehensive tax reform, it's inherently tied to the fundamental question of whether revenue is part of a long-term fiscal plan.”