House Republican leaders and the party’s top tax writer are debating whether to release a plan revamping the U.S. tax code that could limit popular breaks, four House Republican aides said.
Republicans don’t want a distraction from their attacks on the flawed Oct. 1 rollout of President Barack Obama’s health law. Some in the party are concerned that any plan from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp would curtail tax breaks and take other steps that could draw criticism from Democrats and the public.
Camp and members of the committee are scheduled to meet tomorrow with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, with House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy also planning to attend, one of the aides said.
Republican leaders can’t stop Camp from releasing a bill, which the Michigan lawmaker has said would call for the biggest changes to the tax code since 1986. The leaders could urge him to wait, say they would withhold support or ask other party members to tell Camp that they oppose his plan.
Camp told reporters at the Capitol yesterday that he didn’t want to prejudge the meeting, and that he wasn’t sure if he would release the bill before the House leaves Washington Nov. 21 for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.
“I look forward to discussing the merits of tax reform with our leadership,” Camp said. “The time is right, we need a pro-growth reform agenda.”
The aides spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the intraparty quandary and said no final decisions have been made on what to do about tax-law revisions or what leaders should tell Camp.
The tax bill is a party priority that would advance a goal Republicans have embraced in their budget each year since winning the House majority in the 2010 elections. What they haven’t done is add all of the details, showing who would win and who would lose.
A major tax bill would affect multiple industries and markets, including states that issue tax-exempt municipal bonds, companies such as retailer Macy’s Inc. that advocate lower corporate tax rates and individuals who receive tax-free health insurance from their employers.
“When you open up tax reform, you always bring to the table a lot of entrenched interests,” said Phil English, a former Republican lawmaker from Pennsylvania who was a member of the Ways and Means panel. “And the question is: Can you manage that process politically? And can you make a compelling argument that what you are advocating for is a significant improvement, not only for the taxpayer but also for the economy?”
Republican leaders are concerned about the lack of a path to a tax law before this Congress concludes at the end of 2014, given their opposition to raising taxes and Democrats’ insistence that major tax-code changes be accompanied by revenue increases, the aides said.
The issue has reached the point where Republicans must decide whether it’s the right time to move forward, a senior House Republican aide said.
That aide said a potential worry is opposition from lawmakers outside the Ways and Means panel who generally support the concept without being steeped in the details and might object to ending specific tax breaks.
“There are risks involved,” said English, now a lobbyist at Arent Fox LLP in Washington whose clients include Xcel Energy Inc. and the American Dental Association. “There are challenges in messaging. But this is precisely the kind of process that should be in the Republicans’ core, should be in their area of expertise.”
Camp has held the details of his plan closely, particularly those on politically charged issues such as the mortgage interest deduction, capital gains rates and the tax exemption for credit unions.
He has been holding a series of closed-door meetings with his committee’s Republican members during the past few months as they try to draft a proposal with the goal of lowering the top individual rate to 25 percent from 39.6 percent and the top corporate rate to 25 percent from 35 percent.
Camp has released discussion drafts of changes to the taxation of international income, derivatives and small businesses. A committee Republican aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Camp’s timeline hasn’t changed. Ways and Means Republicans are scheduled to meet today.
Camp has been working with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat. They have a joint Twitter handle on their goal of revising the tax code and went on a multi-city tour earlier this year.
Baucus has been set to start releasing discussion drafts and told reporters yesterday that his plans were “proceeding.”
“It’ll be soon,” Baucus said when asked when he’d release his plan. “We’re going to have some meetings this week.”
Camp and Baucus are both trying to finish their work before leaving their posts at the end of 2014. Camp will reach a party-set term limit that prevents him from remaining chairman. Baucus isn’t seeking re-election.