By Ken Berry
The chairmen heading up the two major tax-writing committees in Congress – Max Baucus (D-MT) of the Senate Committee on Finance and Dave Camp (R-MI), chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means – are taking a dog and pony show on the road this summer. The goal of these longtime political rivals is to promote the concept of comprehensive tax reform to the American public. It's straight out of the handbook for presidential candidates.
The first stop on the tour? The Twin Cities of Minnesota.
On July 8, Baucus and Camp sat down with top executives and workers of two St. Paul–based businesses to discuss their plans for overhauling the burdensome tax laws of the land. "The US tax code has not been updated in close to thirty years", they said in a jointly prepared statement. "In that time, it has become increasingly complicated. Our tax code today contains nearly four million words and is riddled with loopholes that are acting as a brake on our economy. We have an opportunity to change all that. Tax reform can make the code simpler and fairer for America's families and businesses and spark a more prosperous economy."
The effort to reach out to taxpayers around the country kicked off with meetings at manufacturing giant 3M and at a much smaller local operation, the Baldinger Bakery. The latter is a fourth-generation-run business with fewer than a hundred employees. At each location, the congressmen listened to workers, cracked jokes, and even clasped hands at one point. "There is a bit of a bubble in Washington, it's true", Baucus said at the 3M Innovation Center. "We are trying to break it."
In particular, Baucus and Camp focused on ways to improve the tax code, mostly through simplification, and methods for creating new jobs and boosting wages. Not surprisingly, the members of the target audience mainly approved. The stopover in the Twin Cities was the first one planned as part of the so-called "Simpler Taxes for America Tour" that will last throughout the summer.
"We are engaging the American public in a national conversation on how to fix the tax code", the congressmen stated. "That is why we are here in St. Paul, meeting with leaders in business – big and small. We want to hear how we can improve their experience with America's tax system."
Most of the questions fielded by Baucus and Camp were scripted and selected ahead of time. But one worker, on his own, asked the congressmen about the actual prospects for tax reform in a sharply divided Washington. "At the end, it is going to have to be a bipartisan bill", said Camp. "In the middle, it always looks like failure. The object is to get past that."
Some skeptics have warned that previous measures aimed at tax reform – including efforts to simplify the tax code – have seemed to result in even more complexity. We will continue to see how the nationwide tour plays out before the midterm elections.