At the start of every Congress, the leadership of both chambers generally set aside bill numbers as a way of designating their biggest priorities. The House Republican majority, for example, will set aside H.R. 1 through H.R. 10 for their top 10 most important bills – the ones they’re most eager to pass.
And in this Congress, H.R. 1 has nothing to do with immigration, health care, energy, or security. Rather, it’s tax reform.
For the last several months, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has been quietly meeting with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on a major overhaul of the federal tax code – the first in a generation. It’s no easy task, and Camp has made clear he considers this the most important project of his political career.
The general proposition is pretty straightforward: if Congress eliminates unnecessary deductions, closes loopholes, and scraps superfluous tax giveaways, the result will be a simpler, streamlined tax code that produces more revenue. The benefit would mean more deficit reduction, lower rates overall, or both. The trouble, of course, is that those deductions, loopholes, and giveaways have their champions and they’re hard to get rid of, compounded by the fact that Democrats and Republicans disagree on what to do with the new revenue.
But that’s not the only trouble. Brian Faler had a report this morning on an angle I hadn’t considered.
[Some of Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp’s] fellow Republicans now don’t want him to release his long-awaited tax reform bill for fear it will allow Democrats to change the subject. They want the public’s focus on people who have lost their health insurance and those having trouble signing up at healthcare.gov, and not on what will surely be a controversial tax-reform bill.It’s a cruel bit of timing for Camp, who’s spent three years, almost since the day Republicans took control of the House, trying to build support for the first tax overhaul in a generation. He’s repeatedly promised his panel would take up legislation this year, and if it doesn’t soon, Camp – who faces term-limit restrictions on his chairmanship – may never get the chance.
Got that? Camp believes he’s finally made progress on H.R. 1 – ostensibly the one thing House Republicans actually want to pass in this Congress – and he’s eager to move forward. Camp, however, is effectively hearing from his own allies, “Don’t bother us with that now; we’re too busy raising a fuss about health care.”
Indeed, the Politico report added that lobbyists involved with the process believe House GOP leaders will “pressure Camp to pull the plug” on his tax-reform measure.
This reminds me a bit of a story from March, when Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) said he wanted to tackle legislation regarding loan guarantees to clean-energy companies, but he dropped the legislation because “he chose to focus more” on Benghazi and Fast and Furious.
In other words, the congressman had a policy priority, but it was abandoned – a partisan crusade got in the way.
Seven months later, it seems Camp is running into a similar issue. He wants to follow through on years of work on tax reform – for the record, I have a hunch I won’t care for his plan – but his effort is getting in the way of Republicans’ anti-healthcare fun.
And since it’s a post-policy party, the conflict between governing and gamesmanship isn’t much of a contest, at least with the House GOP majority.
Don’t forget, just last week Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) boasted that the House Republicans’ top priority should be “messaging,” not problem solving. As Dave Camp is apparently realizing, this is a caucus-wide sentiment.