Thank You, Dave Camp
House Ways & Means Committee Chair Dave Camp (R-MI), who said yesterday that he’ll retire from Congress at the end of the year, will leave behind an enormously important achievement. At a time when too many of his fellow lawmakers substitute easy partisan rhetoric for hard work, Camp wrote a serious tax reform plan.
His plan won’t become law. But when Congress finally gets around to rewriting the tax code, many of its elements will be in the final version. And perhaps even more important, Camp’s fully realized bill will change the political dynamic of the reform debate. His courage has made it possible for other lawmakers to candidly confront the need to cut specific tax preferences as part of any serious reform. And he has set a benchmark that will make life blessedly difficult for those who try to claim that they can magically reduce tax rates by merely eliminating unnamed “loopholes.”
Dave Camp has made it easier for all of us to ask the obvious question of the authors of future half-baked reforms: But how are you going to pay for your tax rate cuts? How will your plan differ from Camp’s?
Camp, who is just 60, didn’t say why he was retiring. But it can’t have been an easy few years for him. He’s known since he took on tax reform that he faced a deadline—that six-year term-limit as the committee’s top Republican. He’s battled cancer. And he’s battled his own deeply-divided party.
Camp spent years patiently and painstakingly educating House Republicans about the political and economic realities of reform. Yet, in the end, his effort yielded tragically little support. Some House Republicans preferred bashing President Obama to engaging on reform. Others just didn’t have the guts to talk honestly about dumping popular tax breaks as the price of lower rates. In the end, even his own party’s leadership left Camp hanging out to dry.
I can’t imagine what went through Camp’s mind when, after years of work, he finally rolled out his reform plan and his own Speaker responded with an insultingly dismissive, “Blah, blah, blah.”
John Boehner has had more than a few low moments in his troubled speakership. Few were lower than that.
And with Camp on a partisan island, it was easy for Democrats to respond with little more than vague platitudes. They complimented him on his courage and hard work but said almost nothing about the merits of his plan.
Camp’s proposal isn’t perfect by any means. In a misguided effort to make it look as if it set a top individual tax rate of 25 percent, Camp relied on a pile of bubbles, phase-outs, and hidden rates. And while the plan would raise roughly the same amount of money as the current tax code for its first decade, it would very likely add trillions to the federal deficit after that.
But it is also filled with dozens of good ideas. It would increase the standard deduction, limit the value of the mortgage interest deduction, entirely eliminate other mostly-useless preferences, and rationalize overly complicated rules for education subsidies and retirement plans.
I hope that when some future President finally signs a tax reform law, Dave Camp will be invited to the ceremony. He will deserve the thanks of whoever finally gets credit for rewriting the revenue code. And he deserves our thanks.