Domestic Taxes

Camp expected to release tax reform plan

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) plans to release his long-delayed overhaul of the tax code in the next several weeks, according to someone close to tax reform discussions.

{mosads}The House’s top tax writer has huddled with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who have both been skeptical about pressing ahead on tax reform, about circulating his plan, the source said.

Exactly when Camp might release his rewrite of the code has yet to be nailed down, but the Michigan Republican is expected to put the plan out after the House returns from its current recess later this month.

Camp has made tax reform the primary goal of his three years as Ways and Means Committee chairman. He had to back off his plan late last year to have his committee consider tax reform.

Now, Camp will move forward even as fellow lawmakers, aides and lobbyists seem convinced no legislation could make it to President Obama’s desk in an election year

The person familiar with tax reform discussions said Camp will probably release his overhaul before Obama releases his budget, and almost certainly won’t wait until the end of March. The Obama budget is scheduled for March 4.

The roadblocks that Camp faced at the end of last year — including deep divisions between Republicans and Democrats over tax policy, not to mention skepticism over his own leadership — have not suddenly vanished.

But Camp, likely facing his final year with the Ways and Means gavel, has sounded increasingly energized about his tax reform efforts in recent weeks, after receiving what he termed a positive response from the rank and file at the recent House GOP retreat.

“Tax reform was really the most frequently discussed issue, and the reason being that jobs and the economy is still the number one issue,” Camp told reporters at the retreat in Cambridge, Md., last month.

By releasing his framework, Camp would be seeking to edge his way into what Republicans hope is a more ambitious, positive agenda this midterm election year.

Camp has also long cast tax reform as a way for Republicans to talk about jobs and growing the economy — a top priority for voters, according to polls. He also sees it as something Republicans could focus on instead of the deficit issues that have dominated Capitol Hill since the Republicans took back the House.

GOP leaders were said to have doubts about tax reform, in large part, because they feared Republican rank-and-file members needed more education about the tax reform process.

But the Republican brass was also satisfied with the reception Camp got in Cambridge, aides said, and won’t stand in the way of the Ways and Means Committee chairman releasing the bill.

Still, plenty of obstacles stand in Camp’s way, with even some of the Michigan Republican’s allies insisting he faces an uphill climb this year.

“I think we’re getting close to running out of time as far as beating the election in November,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho), a senior Republican on the tax-writing Finance Committee.

For starters, even though the House GOP wants a more positive agenda, leaders in both chambers don’t seem interested in having too many more legislative fights this year.

Republicans, for instance, want to continue to heap attention on ObamaCare over the next nine months. Boehner also recently threw cold water on the idea of the House pursuing immigration reform, a top priority for the White House. Senate Democratic leadership, meanwhile, has shown almost no interest in tax reform.

But Crapo added that he supported Camp putting out a plan, even given the odds, saying it could spark sorely needed momentum for tax reform.

“Every step and every development along the way helps facilitate more expeditious movement once we get past the election,” Crapo said.

Camp will also have to pursue tax reform with a new partner in the Senate, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who replaces former Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) as chairman of the Finance Committee. To many around Washington, Baucus’s decision to exit the Senate before his term ends showed how little chance tax reform had for success in 2014.

Plus, Republicans have expressed concern about backing a tax reform proposal in an election year, especially given the divide between themselves and Democrats.

Camp has not deviated from his framework of reducing the top individual and corporate rates to 25 percent, the source familiar with discussions said.

The top individual rate is currently almost 40 percent, while the corporate rate tops out at 35 percent, meaning the House GOP outline would almost, by definition, require the slashing of popular tax breaks in a midterm election year. 

That also means Camp’s plan will almost certainly become a target in powerful quarters on K Street as soon as it’s released. Outside groups have generally backed the idea of tax reform but will find that support tested when Camp lays out which tax breaks would have to be sacrificed to lower rates.

One tax lobbyist said K Street has generally been turned off by Camp’s taking tax reform negotiations behind closed doors.

“To say people are nervous is putting it mildly,” the lobbyist said. “I have not yet heard anyone say they know what’s in it.”

But the lobbyist added that Camp was inviting trouble by releasing his plan, and insisted K Street would be more concerned if it thought tax reform had a better chance of becoming a reality this year.

— Russell Berman contributed. 

Tags Boehner Dave Camp Eric Cantor John Boehner Max Baucus Mike Crapo Ron Wyden Tax reform
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