GOP chairman calls out Obama on tax reform

The House’s top tax writer on Wednesday rebuked President Obama for not releasing a detailed plan to overhaul the tax code.

"I think we all get elected to lead," Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said. "We need some leadership."

The Ways and Means chairman released his own broad tax reform plan in February, only to see his draft win little support from his own party.

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Camp, appearing at an event with Jason FurmanJason FurmanGOP should reject the left's pessimism and the deficit trigger Economy posts first job losses in seven years Look to Latinos to drive US economic growth MORE, one of Obama’s top economic advisers, noted that the White House had only rolled out a general draft on business taxes well over two years ago. A more detailed proposal from Obama, Camp said, could give new life to the stalled tax reform effort.

“I could negotiate with myself. I don’t think it would get anywhere,” Camp said at an event hosted by the Business Roundtable, a group of top corporate chief executives. “But I can’t really counter what I’ve done with nothing. You can’t counter a specific plan with a framework.”

Camp’s allies and GOP tax writers have long accused the White House of talking up an interest in reforming the tax code without following through. Republicans say that’s a stark contrast to 1986, when former President Reagan and his Treasury Department played a central role in crafting a broad overhaul of the tax code.

Today, Democrats and Republicans have deep differences of opinion over how to best revamp the tax code, with that divide especially sharp over whether wealthy individuals should pay more and whether the government should seek to bring in more revenue.

Furman, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, made clear that the administration wasn’t on the same page with Camp when it came to his decision to release a detailed tax reform draft.

“We will do whatever we judge is the best way to advance this and make it happen,” Furman said.

Without specifically mentioning the response to Camp’s draft, Furman added: “If you put out too many specifics in the wrong way and the wrong timing, that can just lead people to start shooting them down and undermining them.”

Still, Furman, like previous administration officials before him, said Republicans and the president have similar goals when it comes to simplifying the tax code for businesses: lowering the top corporate rate, currently at 35 percent, and ridding the code of tax breaks.

The cold reception that Camp’s tax reform plan, which was originally slotted for the plum H.R. 1 slot by Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerJohn Feehery: A political forest fire Trump's pick for Federal Reserve chief is right choice at right time The two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery MORE (R-Ohio), put the issue on the back burner for at least the rest of this year.

Now the hot-button tax issue on Capitol Hill is the influx of so-called corporate inversion deals, in which companies like Burger King and the medical device maker Medtronic have cut their tax bill by reincorporating abroad. Democrats have sought legislation to curb those deals, but Republicans say it’s more a symptom of a U.S. tax code badly in need of fixing.

Camp, who is retiring at year’s end after making tax reform the top priority of his four years with the Ways and Means gavel, has long suggested that he hoped his draft would influence future efforts to rewrite the code.

At Wednesday’s event, he made clear that he’s seeking to spur momentum for a tax overhaul after he’s left Capitol Hill.

He even suggested that the Treasury Department has already hashed out a detailed tax reform plan that covers both businesses and individuals. “I think they haven’t been sitting there twiddling their thumbs,” he said.

With the midterms just two months away, Camp suggested that Obama could wait until after November’s elections to release any broad plan.

The midterms could easily produce a GOP Senate to go with a Republican House for Obama’s last two years in office. That outcome would further complicate the president’s efforts to get any final legislative achievements, but top tax writers in both chambers remain interested in reform.

Obama, Furman said Wednesday, “would certainly love to sign a business tax reform bill.”

Wednesday’s debate between Furman and Camp showed the gaps that need to be bridged for Washington to come together on tax reform.

Camp’s draft would slash the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, with the top individual rate heading to 35 percent from the current 39.6 percent.

On Wednesday, Camp insisted that his plan would not increase the burden on the poorest taxpayers, and said that Washington desperately needed to make the tax code more permanent — for starters by combing through a set of lapsed tax breaks known as extenders, and either reviving them for good or leaving them in the dust.

But Furman said such a plan would just cause another problem to an issue just as important to America’s economic health: the long-term budget deficit.

He also took issue with Camp’s claim that the GOP tax draft wouldn’t raise taxes on the lowest earners, and said that any corporate overhaul would need tough anti-inversion rules because “warm island countries” will always offer lower rates than the U.S.

And after Camp repeatedly called for more details out of the administration, Furman said he thought that the 2012 business tax reform draft had plenty.

Obama, Furman said, was the “first president in decades to put out a framework” on how to lower the corporate tax rate.

“There’s a lot to discuss in it,” Furman said about that draft. “There’s a lot of specifics. There’s a lot of details.”