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Opinion

March 1, 2014

Shribman: Why tax reform is doomed

Here are a dozen reasons why the tax overhaul plan that House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan released last week — or, indeed, any bill labeled “tax reform” — will not pass this year:

It is an election year, and lawmakers don’t take risks in election years. The bill was crafted by a Republican, so the Democrats in the Senate will never give it a fair shot. At its heart is “dynamic scoring,” an arcane accounting practice that assumes lower taxes spur higher revenues, a notion Democrats aren’t about to accept. The economic recovery, while not robust, isn’t weak enough to prompt substantial changes in the tax code.

Wait, there’s more: Camp’s involvement in the movement to stop new IRS regulations governing social-welfare groups alienates some lawmakers and provides an excuse to spurn his tax proposal. Some Republicans won’t support Camp’s drive even if they agree with his precepts because they don’t want to be identified with a proposal that has few prospects in the Senate. Every fat-cat special interest group in Washington — watch especially for the Realtors, who don’t want to undermine the much-overrated home mortgage deduction — will mobilize against it.

Still more: Democrats are offended they weren’t consulted by Camp. They’re also miffed the Republicans were briefed before they were. The proposal doesn’t have a big-name co-sponsor. President Barack Obama and the Republicans will never agree on a major initiative. The political conditions in 2014 don’t begin to replicate the conditions in 1985-1986 that produced the last tax overhaul.

Here is one reason why the Camp proposal, or another tax overhaul, should pass this year: The United States tax code is an unredeemable mess.

Into this mess waded Camp, who had hoped the bipartisan super-committee on budget issues might have tackled tax overhaul four years ago. He’s devoutly conservative — he once rated a “0” score from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, a badge of honor on the right. He’s also devoutly committed to his quixotic mission.

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