Amidst all the current speculation and prognostications surrounding the eventual occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and his/her effect on the future of tax reform, I got this crazy idea.
Why not assemble a bipartisan panel of tax experts, economists, educators and investment strategists and charge them with drafting proposals and guidelines to essentially reform the current federal tax system?

Oh wait.

We’ve already done that.

Three years ago, our current Commander in Chief assembled the President’s Advisory Panel on Tax Reform, a bipartisan panel whose mission statement was “to advise on options to reform the tax code —  make it simpler, fairer and more pro-growth to benefit all Americans.”

Eleven months later, the group submitted its recommendations to the Treasury and the Bush administration, both of whom did exactly nothing with it.

Which may go a long way to explain my cynicism when I hear lawmakers holding hearings on, or calling for, tax reform.

As many of you know, I’ve used a good deal of this space to both eviscerate and laud various tax reform policies — whether they emanate from lawmakers or the current crop of contenders for the Oval Office.
It’s not that they don’t keep trying, however.

Last week the Senate Finance Committee held the latest in a series of seemingly endless hearings on the subject of tax reform.

Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., queried a panel of tax experts on individual tax reform — which ostensibly centered around social policies in the Tax Code  and “ways to improve American economic competitiveness.” 

Again, I think we’ve seen this movie before.

The chairman sought to identify obstacles and transition costs related to reforming the current system as part of an overall effort to move, ideally, toward comprehensive tax reform in 2009.

A number of the proposals were the usual suspects, i.e.  moving to a consumption-based structure, reducing the tax on individual savings and investments as a strategy to promote growth, and closing loopholes and tax shelters that help fuel the current $345 billion tax gap.

In an effort to highlight the need for a less complex system, the senator echoed the IRS estimates of requiring an average of 26.4 hours to complete the individual tax form – calling it too long to figure out how much you owe the federal government.

There’s probably no less than a hundred one-liners  associated with that remark, but I’ll restrain myself.
It comes down to this. You can gather all the tax experts and policymakers you want and hold enough hearings to program C-Span for three weeks.

But until we have an administration and Congress who actually decide to take a proposal and run with it, or at least afford it some serious consideration, it will just be another dust-covered report in a city with a graveyard  full of them.

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