For those who say there are no serious new ideas in Washington or the courage to espouse them, consider a proposal from Ways and Means Chairman David Camp (R-Mich.) to simplify the tax code. The proposal is scheduled to be unveiled officially this afternoon, but it has been in previews this week. Camp, who steps down as chair at the end of this Congress because of committee term limits, is proposing something unusual, especially for Republicans these days: a serious piece of legislation. Moreover, according to initial reports, his bill takes on Wall Street tax breaks, places a surcharge on the very wealthy and is revenue neutral at worst.
The political analysis of Camp’s move has already begun, and it follows a familiar pattern: First, the bill has no chance to pass; second, Camp’s pre-election timing is awkward. Both statements have truth, not that Mr. Camp cares. There won’t be any comprehensive legislation before November’s midterms, and Mr. Camp probably gets to his prize of lower and simplified individual rates by sacrificing tax breaks for the wealthy and the middle class, perhaps including some modification of the sacred cow of mortgage-interest deductions. Republicans will consider this unhelpful; for them, the number one, two and three issues in 2014 are the new health-care law, the new health-care law and the new health-care law, and they prefer no distractions.
Longer-term, however, Mr. Camp may be doing Republicans a real service. For years, Democrats have beaten Republicans with the charge that they favor tax breaks for the rich. It has been a central and largely winning theme for Democrats in four of the last six presidential elections. More recently, Republicans have been cast, with Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget, as the party that will sacrifice Medicare and Medicaid to preserve favorable tax treatment for the rich. Mr. Camp’s proposal may be dead for now, but Republicans would be wise not to bury it forever.