By Bernie Becker - 06/18/13 09:00 AM EDT
Republican tax writers in the House say they’re willing to move a tax reform bill out of the Ways and Means Committee without Democratic votes.
Top GOP members of the panel acknowledge that passing a bipartisan product would give the House more leverage and stress they’re still looking to win over committee Democrats.
But Republicans also maintain that some of the major differences between the two parties on tax policy — especially whether a rewritten code should raise more revenue — aren’t likely to be solved at the committee level.
“I’d be satisfied if the House passed its best idea of pro-growth reform, and the Senate passed its best idea, whatever the vote structure might be,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), a senior Ways and Means member.
“I think it’s going to be difficult anyway — just tax reform by itself is, at every step of the way. Which is why it’s just important to keep taking those steps.”
GOP tax-writers are talking up the bipartisan process that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has employed on tax reform, something they say is a stark contrast to the way Democrats pushed through their healthcare law in 2009 and 2010.
Camp worked with the top Democrat on Ways and Means, Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), to set up bipartisan working groups to study tax policy this year.
The Ways and Means chairman is also meeting individually with each committee member, and he and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) told reporters on Friday that they are setting up bipartisan lunches involving both chambers. The first of those gatherings will likely happen before the July 4 recess, a GOP aide said.
Still, Camp, who has vowed to pass a tax overhaul out of his committee this year, clearly expects some bumps along the way, saying last week that he fully expected the Senate and the House to craft different bills.
“I’m meeting with every Democrat on my committee. Many of them say they would like to see more revenue. And I just say: ‘Look, let’s not go to our corners,’ ” Camp said. “I don’t think it’s productive to focus on where we disagree.”
Camp’s comments come as he and Baucus are trying to harness the anger over the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups into momentum for tax reform.
Baucus and Camp are planning a barnstorming tour of the country to sell tax reform. They also insist they’re committed to using the committee process, though they add that high-profile negotiations over the debt ceiling could give tax reform a needed push.
Democrats on Ways and Means say they believe that Camp’s outreach to them has been sincere.
“I think people understand that the status quo is not sustainable over the long haul,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told The Hill. “People want the committee to succeed, and we’ve got a whole host of things out there that require attention and action.”
Still, committee members from both parties say a large chunk of Democratic tax-writers won’t vote for any overhaul that is revenue-neutral, meaning it wouldn’t immediately increase what the government collects.
Senate Democrats passed a budget calling for close to $1 trillion in new revenues, while Republicans have said that the fiscal-cliff deal signed early this year is as far as they’ll go on tax hikes. Baucus has said that reform should increase revenues, but said the Senate budget went too far.
A Democratic aide pointed out that the real horse trading has not yet begun, and that Republicans would be making a mistake if they didn’t work with Democrats to write a bipartisan product — especially given how partisan tensions have risen on Capitol Hill.
“If you can’t do a bipartisan vote from the get go, that’s not a good sign,” the aide said.
“I’m hopeful maybe we can peel away a few [Democratic] votes,” said Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), another senior Ways and Means member.
But Boustany also said there was “a certain discipline” among Democrats. “They’ll probably try to hold the line,” the Louisiana Republican told The Hill.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) told reporters that four or five of the 16 Democrats on Ways and Means could vote for a revenue-neutral reform, though he wouldn’t be one of them.
Republicans have pointed to Ways and Means members like Reps. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Ron Kind (D-Wis.) as lawmakers they think they can work with.
“I think he’d rather have it bipartisan,” Pascrell said about Camp.
Crowley is a member of the Democratic leadership team, as is Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), who also sits on the committee.
Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), the chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee that deals with taxes, added that he fully expects Democratic leaders to pressure Ways and Means members to vote “no.”
“That’s unfortunate, but that’s life,” Tiberi said.
The politics of tax reform remain a challenge for House Republicans. GOP rank and file have expressed concern that they could be forced into a tough vote on to tax reform, only to watch it stall in the Senate.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has given his blessing to Camp’s efforts, after voicing similar concerns. Republicans also think some more conservative Democrats would back their tax overhaul on the House floor.
Many on Capitol Hill say it wouldn’t be very hard for Camp to pass a tax reform bill through his committee, where Republicans enjoy a 23-16 advantage. Passing a tax measure on the House floor along party lines would be a significant challenge, however, as Republicans have struggled to pass high-profile bills without Democratic votes.
In February, Boehner reserved the highly coveted H.R. 1 for tax reform, saying at the time, “Fixing our tax code is one of my highest legislative priorities for this Congress.”
House Republicans don’t believe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) feels the same way.
Yet, Camp has noted that Obama’s latest budget called for a revenue-neutral overhaul of the corporate tax system, an area where Republicans and Democrats have found more common ground.
“Clearly, there’s going to be some fault lines in the process,” said centrist Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.).
But, he added, “Every opportunity has been given to the other side of the aisle to give us the input.”