Could tax reform really happen?

I may owe Dave Camp an apology.

A couple of weeks ago I predicted that tax reform was the new “repeal and replace” — a good, useful slogan for a House Republican conference that doesn’t want to do any legislating.

To be sure: there’s still no bill. I predicted that we wouldn’t get a bill to the House floor, and so far there’s no bill, let alone a bill that’s gone through Camp’s Ways and Means Committee and is ready to go to the floor.

And yet, today’s op-ed from Camp and Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus and hearings in both the House and Senate are far more substantive than House Republicans ever got on a “replace” bill for the Affordable Care Act during the last Congress. It is especially interesting, as Ezra Klein noted, that the committee chairs are willing to violate Paul Ryan’s framework. That’s good news for tax reform; the only way it can happen is if it’s bipartisan, which precludes a tax shift away from the wealthy and toward middle-class taxpayers (and even the poor) that the math of Ryan’s plan implies.

Moreover, it’s unlikely that one party would move on tax reform without the other party going along. Tax reform is just too good at producing targets. Remember, the inherent nature of tax reform is that it gives most people very modest, not very visible benefits in return for small organized groups who pay significant, extremely visible costs. If one party goes first, the other party will be highly tempted to simply shoot at the targets instead of legislating.

So the fact that Camp is moving ahead is good news for tax reform; that he’s moving ahead, at least so far, with Baucus is even better news.

It still doesn’t mean that a bill will ever see the light of day; this stuff is difficult, even if everyone has good intentions and works hard at it. And I’m still skeptical that House Republicans truly want to move ahead with a real bill. As for Baucus, he may have incentives to keep a major tax bill in play, but the incentives to actually get one passed are not as clear. So I won’t count my prediction wrong yet. But  will say this: They’re taking it more seriously than they took health care in the last Congress. So that’s something.

Also on PostPartisan

PostScript: Thiessen and infanticide