A GOP plan for tax reform; two opinions

Special to The Washington PostFebruary 28, 2014 

For too long Republicans have been blamed for Washington's gridlock. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich. is giving Republicans a way to diminish the "party of no" label.

Camp has offered a serious, creative plan to overhaul the U.S. tax code. His effort deserves a lot of support and discussion.

Republicans need to match their rhetoric with some action. Saying that we need a fairer, flatter, simpler tax code is an empty cliche if we don't have a plan to make that idea a reality.

Camp recommends several ways to make the tax code "fairer and more accountable," including having fewer individual income tax rates (of 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent) and introducing a higher standard deduction and child tax credit that would result in less paperwork for families.

Debating tax reform is useful even if Republicans don't agree with all of Camp's proposals. The GOP needs to offer serious policy and not just carp about Obamacare.

I spoke with Camp, and the first word he used to describe the motive behind his proposal was "growth." Economist Stephen Moore, who is the gold standard for pro-growth Republicans, praised the plan in an article in Wednesday's Investor's Business Daily. It means, Moore wrote, "more jobs and as much as $700 billion of added revenues to the Treasury over 10 years. Is there a better way to balance the budget than through higher growth, profits, employment and wages?"

And there should be no whining among Republicans about being forced to advocate something specific in an election year. Voters aren't stupid. They know the GOP has mostly been spinning its wheels.

We can disagree with Democrats, but we can't say they haven't put forward plans. For better or for worse, President Obama and his Democratic allies are offering voters Obamacare, less work, more food stamps and, in some places, even more pot.

Republicans need to give Americans reasons to vote for them and not just against the Democrats. Buzzwords won't do. Republicans need to offer solutions.

-- Ed Rogers, a co-host of The Insiders blog, offering commentary from a Republican perspective. He is also chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with Haley Barbour in 1991.

Rep. Dave Camp is proposing something unusual, especially for Republicans these days: a serious piece of legislation. Political analysis of his tax reform plan holds that the bill has no chance to pass and that its pre-election timing is awkward.

Both statements have truth, not that Camp cares. There won't be any comprehensive legislation before the November midterms, and he gets to his prize of lower and simplified individual rates by sacrificing tax breaks for the wealthy and the middle class, including some modification of the sacred cow of mortgage-interest deductions.

Republicans consider this unhelpful; for them, the issue in 2014 is the health-care law, and they prefer no distractions.

Longer-term, however, Camp may be doing Republicans a real service. The charge that Republicans favor tax breaks for the rich has been a central and largely winning theme for Democrats in four of the past six presidential elections.

More recently, Republicans have been cast, with Rep. Paul Ryan's budget, as the party that would sacrifice Medicare and Medicaid to preserve favorable tax treatment for the rich.

Camp's proposal may be dead for now, but Republicans would be wise not to bury it forever.

-- Carter Eskew, a co-host of The Insiders blog, offering commentary from a Democratic perspective, and the chief strategist for the Gore 2000 presidential campaign.

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