The voices of Tax Policy Center's researchers and staff
The Senate Finance Committee has created five bipartisan working groups to develop ideas for comprehensive tax reform by the end of May. It is a good idea. But it is unlikely to accelerate the panel’s timetable for producing legislation.
The task forces won't develop many new ideas. Let’s be honest: For the most part, when it comes to tax reform, there are no new ideas. This is especially true if lawmakers limit their thinking to the standard template of cutting rates and broadening the base.
If they want to know how to do this, I have an entire bookshelf of commission reports, academic volumes, discussion drafts, white papers, and studies. Senators are welcome to come by and read them. Or, they could just call Dave Camp, whose own tax reform plan pretty much touched all the bases.
On the other hand, encouraging senators of both parties to work through these tough issues together, and perhaps become invested in solutions, is very useful. Giving them a specific deadline is necessary.
Former House Ways & Means Committee Chair Camp also created bipartisan working groups before drafting his own reform plan. And some of their ideas did find their way into his plan. But in the end, Democrats had only a limited role in drafting his final product.
Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has embraced the bipartisan task force idea. At least at this stage, he has engaged top committee Democrat Ron Wyden (D-OR) and other Democratic panel members. Both he and Wyden have made some interesting choices for co-chairs of these groups.
Many, such as Republicans Mike Enzi, Chuck Grassley, and Rob Portman and Democrats such as Ben Cardin and Michael Bennet, have reputations for working across the aisle on tax issues. But the list of co-chairs also includes strong conservatives such as John Thune and liberals such as Sherrod Brown.
Any plan that could win support across that ideological spectrum would have a good chance of passing—at least in the Senate. On the other hand, if the only way the groups can reach consensus is to dodge the really tough issues, their value will be limited. A bipartisan statement that never gets past a description of the current code’s problems, or one that merely lists options for reform, won’t be nearly enough.
It is hard to make sense of some of working group assignments. For instance, there is one task force on business taxes and a separate one on international tax. One group will address individual income taxes and another is supposed to focus on savings and investment. The division of labor among these will be…interesting.
My guess is Hatch and Wyden created five groups so they could offer co-chairmanships to many committee members possible. That’s a sensible engagement strategy even if creates some awkward overlap.
The open question: What will Hatch do with these reports when he receives them in the spring? Will they serve as the political and analytical foundation for a truly bipartisan reform plan? Or will they end their lives as additional clutter on my bookshelves?
Here are the task forces and their chairs:
Individual Income Tax: Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Business Income Tax: John Thune (R-SD) and Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Savings and Investment: Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
International: Rob Portman (R-OH) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Community Development and Infrastructure: Dean Heller (R-NV) and Michael Bennet (D-CO)
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