I've always believed in the old adage, "Never say never."
But if I'm being honest, I have to admit that I didn't think I'd see any politician trying to resurrect the idea of real tax reform so soon.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, have introduced companion bills that would establish a bipartisan 15-member tax reform commission that would bear the moniker of the " Securing America's Future Economy Commission." The twist in this proposal is that the commission could bring a package proposal to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote. Not to make anyone think there are no caveats -- t he president or the budget committee of either house of Congress would be able to submit alternatives.
So far, there's been little talk about the bills, which isn't surprising. President Bush's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform worked through nearly all of 2005, hearing from more than 100 witnesses and receiving thousands of written comments, before issuing its recommendations last November. That report has since lain dormant in the face of a mid-term election this fall and the president's own low approval ratings.
Not a heck of a lot has changed on the tax reform landscape in the six months since the president conspicuously left any mention of what was supposed to be a key part of his second-term agenda out of the State of the Union address. Treasury official Eric Solomon has been nominated be the department's assistant secretary for tax policy, a key position that would likely be the point staff person in getting any real reform proposal off the ground. Congress spent the last two weeks -- and will likely spend more significant time over the summer -- dickering over whether or not to permanently repeal the estate tax, which affects less than two-tenths of 1 percent of the population.
Rep. Wolf and Sen. Voinovich are at least suggesting a new vehicle for tax reform, but nonetheless, it's still an inert vehicle, with no driver or political traction in sight. President Bush's original panel had suggested a number of significant proposals to change the tax code, including reducing deductions for home mortgages and scaling back state and local taxes, few of which were ever seriously discussed or debated beyond Washington's economic think tanks.
Trying to assemble yet another commission, likely composed of more individuals sitting outside the political sphere of influence, will accomplish little for the massive job of reforming the tax code. If no one within Congress is willing to take the lead and make a real push, this is another issue that looks to go the way of Social Security reform -- an abstract legislative dilemma has been poked and prodded by all, with frustratingly little to show by way of real-world results.
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