White House tax-reform push is ‘game changer,’ says ex-chairman

White House tax-reform push is ‘game changer,’ says ex-chairman
© Greg Nash

Dave Camp knows a thing or two about tax reform from his days as chairman of House Ways and Means Committee, and he says President Trump’s commitment to the issue is a “game changer.”

The Michigan Republican, who now works as a senior policy adviser at PwC, said he’s “optimistic” about the chances of tax-reform legislation passing this year.

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“It’s never easy to do tax reform, but I do think that there is a growing sense that this is something that we need to do,” he said.

Camp, who retired from Congress at the end of his term in 2015, partnered with former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusGreen Party puts Dem seat at risk in Montana Business groups worried about Trump's China tariffs plan Farmers hit Trump on trade in new ad MORE (D-Mont.) on the last major attempt to rewrite the tax code.

While that effort ultimately failed, it helped lay the groundwork for the tax reform push that Republicans are making now that they control both chambers of Congress.

This time around, the effort has the support of the Trump White House, which last week released a tax reform plan that calls for lowering rates and eliminating tax preferences for individuals and for corporations.

When Camp was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Congress and the Obama administration were not in agreement on the goals of tax reform. With no buy-in from the White House, Camp released a tax-reform proposal in 2014 that was quickly dismissed, even by lawmakers in his own party.

Now, “a difference and positive development is that there’s an administration committed to it,” Camp said in an interview with The Hill.

So far, much of the effort to sell Trump’s tax plan is being done by members of his economic team. Camp said it will be beneficial for Trump to sell the plan himself, when the time comes.

“I think at the appropriate times, with the forum a president of the United States has, explaining the benefits of tax reform to the American people will be incredibly helpful,” Camp said.

When asked for his thoughts about Trump’s tax proposal, Camp said “the plan speaks for itself.”

“It’s a massive tax cut, significant tax reform, and the goal is to grow our economy, create jobs and make people’s lives better,” he said.

The White House’s plan does not mention some of the more controversial parts of a blueprint released last year by House Republicans, such as the “border-adjustment” provision that would tax imports and exempt exports.

Camp said he didn’t have a personal opinion on the border-adjustment proposal but noted that “it is an issue that has divided the business community” and that Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanLieu rips Ryan after Waffle House shooting: ‘When will you stop silencing us?’ To succeed in Syria, Democrats should not resist Trump policy House Republicans prepare to battle for leadership slots MORE (R-Wis.) has said House Republicans are going to modify the provision.

Some lawmakers and analysts are raising concerns about the potential for Trump’s tax plan to significantly increase the deficit. But Camp said that it’s too early to tell how the plan would impact the federal balance sheet.

“The plan is not a detailed release, so you can’t really quantify what the impact on the deficit will be or what the impact on economic growth will be,” he said.

Camp’s 2014 tax reform plan had some significant differences from the House GOP’s blueprint.

The former chairman’s proposal was revenue-neutral without accounting for economic growth that the tax changes would produce and didn’t change the distribution of the tax burden on income groups. To achieve these goals, his plan included some provisions that were unpopular with Republicans, such as a bank tax.

Camp’s bill was the first tax to receive a “dynamic score” that took economic changes into consideration when estimating the impact on the federal budget. These days, Republicans are more reliant on dynamic scoring, which would make it easier for them to release a bill that is a net tax cut before considering economic effects.

“Now you see policies to really get that real-world evaluation of tax policy to show how much economic growth and therefore jobs we can generate through these changes,” he said.

Despite the differences in their tax plans, Republicans credit Camp for helping to build the foundation for their legislative effort.

The current House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradySome doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP House passes series of bills to improve IRS The Hill's Morning Report: Hannity drawn into Cohen legal fight MORE (R-Texas), told reporters Sunday that the panel’s endeavor “builds on really five years [of] Ways and Means Committee work.”

Camp declined to comment on his recent conversations with lawmakers but praised Ryan and Brady.

“They’re both incredibly knowledgeable, very smart and are very good at explaining complicated tax policy in an understandable way,” he said.

Camp also called Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump struggles to get new IRS team in place Romney forced into GOP primary for Utah Senate nomination Romney won't commit yet to supporting Trump in 2020 MORE (R-Utah) “one of the most outstanding people I’ve been able to meet and work with.”

“He’s just got a tremendous amount of knowledge and background on issues and the Senate and the Congress,” Camp said.

Prior to entering Congress in 1991, Camp practiced law and had some knowledge of tax issues from preparing estate tax returns. But he said his interest in tax policy was really developed on the Ways and Means Committee.

“I didn’t know at 10 years old that I would be interested in tax policy, I can tell you that,” he said.

After retiring from Congress in early 2015, Camp joined PwC — also known as PricewaterhouseCoopers — where he works in the firm’s Washington National Tax Services practice. He still lives in Michigan and spends about one week per month in D.C., while also traveling around the country to visit PwC’s clients.

Camp said his job at the company is to “try to make sense of tax policy.”

“That means I try to follow what’s happening with regard to tax policy and try to describe it to employers and Main Street ... as well as internally within the organization,” he said.

“I do get to follow what’s happening and cheer from the sidelines,” he said.