Ways & Means Releases Tax Reform Outline — Part I
The Ways and Means Committee Republicans released their long-awaited draft on international tax reform today. According to the Committee, today’s release is part of a series of reforms to be outlined by the Committee in coming months, the whole of which would make up a comprehensive rewrite of the tax code.
Good news there. As our Washington Wire readers know, we’ve been making the case since last January that any reform effort needs to be comprehensive.
According to the Committee: “Today, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) unveiled an international tax reform discussion draft as part of the Committee’s broader effort on comprehensive tax reform that would lower top tax rates for both individuals and employers to 25 percent. In addition to rate cuts, the plan would transition the United States from a worldwide system of taxation to a territorial system – a move virtually every one of America’s global competitors has already made.”
Why begin the discussion with international reforms? Apparently, of the three subsections of income tax — individual, corporate and international — the latter is seen as the “low hanging fruit.” There’s also a sense of bipartisan support for making some of these changes, although that support seems to be very superficial — who’s opposed to reform and simplicity? With actual details on the table, that support could disappear.
How does the pending release affect the Super Committee deliberations? Not sure. Several members of the Committee have expressed an interest in pursuing corporate-only reform, but with the November 23rd deadline looming, the Committee may not have time to produce detailed tax reform proposals. Instead, some instruction to the tax writing committees to produce certain reforms by a specific date might be the only available option, if that.
How the Obama Administration reacts is another wild card. Bringing the Administration to the table is a key motivation behind today’s release. If they appear receptive to broader conversations, it could kick start serious negotiations over the future of the tax code. At the very least, it could spur the Super Committee to include tax reform instructions as part of its recommendations.
But that outcome is predicated on the notion that the Obama Administration is serious about corporate reform. If so, they have done a good job of hiding it. Starting with the President’s budget release last February all the way through September’s “jobs” speech, the Administration has had multiple opportunities to offer up something specific, but has chosen to ignore the issue instead, at least in public.
Finally, there’s a definite risk for Republicans in releasing a partial proposal only, and one that focuses on international tax provisions at that. While the proposal is designed to ensure more firms locate here in the United States, it would be very easy for opponents to demagogue it as “more tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas.”
At the end of the process, we expect that today’s draft is round one in a very long discussion over tax reform. Depending on how the Administration reacts, this discussion might culminate in action next summer, or it could be held hostage to next year’s elections and get pushed into 2013.
Either way, what we do know is that Chairman Camp is serious about fixing the tax code and that he wants to do it in a thoughtful and comprehensive manner. Today’s release is a positive first step, and for that the Chairman should be applauded.