“Dave is a results-driven chairman,” said Cantor, a personal friend. “And he’s been able to navigate all the personalities in a really impressive way.”
In a Congress infamous for gridlock, Camp also has managed to get things done.
In December 2010, as part of a deal to extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for two years, he engineered the demise of dozens of temporary tax breaks — a rare achievement his office touted as a first step toward tax reform. Later, he pushed through a trio of free-trade agreements that had languished for years, in part by advancing assistance for trade-displaced workers, a Democratic priority. This year, he helped Boehner back out of a difficult corner that had Republicans blocking extension of a payroll tax cut for nearly every American worker.
All told, Ways and Means has had two dozen bills signed into law under Camp, aides said, more than any other committee in the Republican House.
Cantor predicts that the election will determine the difficulty of Camp’s job going forward. If Republican Mitt Romney wins the White House and the GOP takes control of the Senate, Camp would be free to rewrite the tax code without raising more money. But if Democrats hang on to either base of power, Cantor said, “taxes are going to go up. That’s just reality. . . . And Dave knows very well the challenges we’re going to face.”
Camp says he is ready whatever the outcome. He and his staff have close ties to Romney, a fellow native of Michigan, who is also calling for comprehensive reform. And he meets weekly with Baucus, who shares his desire to enact legacy-making legislation in 2013.
“There are times when issues are ready to be addressed. After 26 years, it’s time to take another look at the code,” Camp said. “If you can get the right policy, it usually has broad appeal. And most members are here because they want to be legislators.”
Laying the groundwork
Even before he took control of Ways and Means last year, Camp was focused on tax reform. As a member of the fiscal commission led by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson in 2010, Camp led a working group on taxes with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).
Camp declined to support the Bowles-Simpson proposal for stabilizing the national debt. But while his House GOP colleagues cited the plan’s failure to tackle soaring health-care costs, Camp said he was opposed to the recommendation to let tax collections rise to 21 percent of the nation’s economy — “the highest level ever,” Camp said. “I told them early on that was a problem for me.”