Skip to main content

Time to fish or cut bait on tax reform

11/13/2013 01:55PM, Published by ACL, Categories: In Print



By Lee H. Hamilton

As Congress moves forward on budget negotiations, the word out of Washington is to expect nothing major: no grand bargain, just more stopgap, short-term fixes. Yet there’s one ray of hope. The House and Senate chairs of the tax-writing committees, one a Republican, the other a Democrat, are preparing a comprehensive tax reform plan. They see the budget negotiations as their opportunity to enact much-needed changes to our bloated, off-kilter tax laws.

The last time lawmakers managed to find a way to simplify and reshape the tax code was almost three decades ago, in 1986, when Ronald Reagan was still president. Since then there have been over 15,000 adjustments and amendments, leaving a mess that just about everyone agrees must be cleaned up. Odds are against Congress managing the task, but its handling of the debate on tax reform tells us a lot about how members approach difficult issues.

That’s because this latest effort to rewrite the tax code is saddled by a deep-seated problem that spans both parties and all ideologies: political timidity. Tax avoidance is a highly sophisticated and lucrative business in this country, and politicians address it at their peril.

This became clear during the summer, when the senators leading the tax-reform charge on their side of Capitol Hill, Democrat Max Baucus of Montana and Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, laid out their initiative. They wanted senators to take a “blank slate” approach to the issue: no current deduction, exemption or credit would continue unless a strong case could be made for it. Then they invited their colleagues to identify what they’d keep and what they’d reject.

That was a fine start, until Baucus and Hatch took an extraordinary step. They guaranteed senators 50 years of anonymity for their suggestions, thus allowing each senator to continue attacking the tax code mess without taking any specific public positions on how to improve it.

In other words, here’s a public issue of enormous consequence, affecting every taxpayer in the land, and they were afraid to talk about it meaningfully in public. Sure, you hear plenty from politicians about tax reform, but it’s all generalities. They talk about a simpler code or a fairer code or a flatter code, but in truth, almost every member of Congress talks in gross generalities about the monstrosity that is the tax code and comes out fervently for reform, without actually taking a stand on the tough issues.

Tax reform is meaningless without specifics.

Continuing to exclude employer contributions for health care, for instance, will cost taxpayers some $760 billion over the next five years, according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation — but getting rid of it will surely anger employers and employees. We could recoup $379 billion over the next five years by cutting the mortgage interest deduction, but how many homeowners do you know who would go along with the idea?

The political power of the interests that benefit from reduced tax rates on dividends and long-term capital gains, which will cost the Treasury $616 billion between now and 2017, is immense. So, in its own way, is that of supporters of the deduction for charitable contributions ($239 billion).

In all, tax breaks cost the Treasury some $1.1 trillion a year — which puts them well ahead of most other forms of federal spending.

Yet each has its own constituency — often a vocal, well-funded, well-organized one. Politicians who call for “tax reform” without going into specifics butter their bread on both sides — they ride the public outcry against the tax code in general, while avoiding the outcry from people hurt by the changes that tax reform would inevitably bring. After all, a “loophole” to one group is usually a “lifeline” to another. So nothing happens.

Everyone knows that tax reform will involve limiting tax breaks. It should be possible to avoid the political difficulties by capping the total without eliminating specific breaks. But even this will require political backbone. Until Congress shows us that its members possess the courage to detail publicly what’s needed, talk of tax reform will be just that: talk.

 

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Chester County's free newsletter to catch every headline



congress taxes lee hamilton joint committee on taxation


You might also like


  • DFVA Greenville Summer Art Show

    05/29/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of over thirty outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley ar...


  • DFVA Summer Art Show

    05/29/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley area will exhi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/29/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • PurpleStride Delaware 2015 - 5K Run/Walk

    05/30/2015
    08:00am — 11:00am

    The Delaware Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is hosting its third annual Purple...


  • PurpleStride Delaware 2015 - 5K Run/Walk

    05/30/2015
    08:00am — 11:00am

    PurpleStride 2015 is a 5K run and family friendly walk. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is b...


  • Multi-Family Yard Sale in Oxford

    05/30/2015
    09:00am — 03:00pm

    Electronics, tools, baby clothes, toys, kitchen, bath, bedding, decorations, crafts and so much more


  • CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 04:00pm

    CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS Level: All levels, Limit: 10 students Instructor: Mitch Lyon...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • DFVA Greenville Summer Art Show

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of over thirty outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley ar...


  • DFVA Summer Art Show

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley area will exhi...


  • OA-BEST Expo

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 02:00pm

    FUN FOR ALL! The Chester and Lancaster County communities have always been tied deeply to the ro...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/30/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Explore Native Orchids

    05/30/2015
    01:00pm — 03:00pm

    Discover what makes native orchids so special. Join Smithsonian’s orchid expert Tom Mirenda as he...


  • Pawty at the Preserve

    05/30/2015
    03:00pm — 07:00pm

    Join Canine Partners for Life at Pawty at the Preserve, as we celebrate 25 years of creating life...


  • Gentle Yoga

    06/03/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Hatha Yoga

    06/03/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/04/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/04/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • 5th Annual Twisted Vintner

    06/04/2015
    06:00pm — 09:00pm

    Concordville - Chadds Ford Rotary's fundraiser to support local charities includes Wine, Beer and...


  • DFVA Greenville Summer Art Show

    05/29/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of over thirty outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley ar...


  • DFVA Summer Art Show

    05/29/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley area will exhi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/29/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • PurpleStride Delaware 2015 - 5K Run/Walk

    05/30/2015
    08:00am — 11:00am

    The Delaware Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is hosting its third annual Purple...


  • PurpleStride Delaware 2015 - 5K Run/Walk

    05/30/2015
    08:00am — 11:00am

    PurpleStride 2015 is a 5K run and family friendly walk. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is b...


  • Multi-Family Yard Sale in Oxford

    05/30/2015
    09:00am — 03:00pm

    Electronics, tools, baby clothes, toys, kitchen, bath, bedding, decorations, crafts and so much more


  • CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 04:00pm

    CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS Level: All levels, Limit: 10 students Instructor: Mitch Lyon...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • DFVA Greenville Summer Art Show

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of over thirty outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley ar...


  • DFVA Summer Art Show

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley area will exhi...


  • OA-BEST Expo

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 02:00pm

    FUN FOR ALL! The Chester and Lancaster County communities have always been tied deeply to the ro...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/30/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Explore Native Orchids

    05/30/2015
    01:00pm — 03:00pm

    Discover what makes native orchids so special. Join Smithsonian’s orchid expert Tom Mirenda as he...


  • Pawty at the Preserve

    05/30/2015
    03:00pm — 07:00pm

    Join Canine Partners for Life at Pawty at the Preserve, as we celebrate 25 years of creating life...


  • Multi-Family Yard Sale in Oxford

    05/31/2015
    09:00am — 03:00pm

    Electronics, tools, baby clothes, toys, kitchen, bath, bedding, decorations, crafts and so much more


  • CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS

    05/31/2015
    10:00am — 04:00pm

    CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS Level: All levels, Limit: 10 students Instructor: Mitch Lyon...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    05/31/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    05/31/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    05/31/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/01/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Monday's are Whiskey nights at Minihane's

    06/01/2015
    05:00pm — 11:00pm

    Whisky is not the same as Whiskey! There is some debate about whether or not Scottish distill...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    06/01/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/02/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Wilmington Handbell Ensemble Concert

    06/02/2015
    07:30pm — 08:15pm

    Presents our spring concert program, "March On"


  • Gentle Yoga

    06/03/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Hatha Yoga

    06/03/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/04/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/04/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • 5th Annual Twisted Vintner

    06/04/2015
    06:00pm — 09:00pm

    Concordville - Chadds Ford Rotary's fundraiser to support local charities includes Wine, Beer and...


  • Milburn's Grand Re-Opening of the Farm Market, BIG BackYard, and Orchard View Deck is Friday, Jun...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/05/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • On June 6th, the Avon Grove High School Football Team will be hosting a community yard sale. Tab...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/06/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • 2015 Chester County Blues Barbeque

    06/06/2015
    02:00pm — 07:00pm

    The Chester County Blues BBQ is an annual event sponsored by the Coventry Lions Club featuring re...


  • Sustainable Splurges: A Feast for the Senses

    06/06/2015
    06:00pm — 08:00pm

    Enjoy delicious, locally made foods – wine, chocolate, honey and cheese – while roaming an exclu...


  • 150th Anniversary Civil War Reconciliation Ball

    06/06/2015
    06:00pm — 10:00pm

    Dinner, Dancing and an Auction! Reconciliation Ball to Commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the e...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/07/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Steamin' Day at Auburn Heights

    06/07/2015
    12:30pm — 04:30pm

    Join the Marshall Steam Museum at Auburn Heights for the first Steamin' Day of the season! New fo...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/07/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/07/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/08/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/08/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Monday's are Whiskey nights at Minihane's

    06/08/2015
    05:00pm — 11:00pm

    Whisky is not the same as Whiskey! There is some debate about whether or not Scottish distill...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    06/08/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/09/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/09/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Fitness Walks

    06/10/2015
    08:30am — 09:30am

    Turn off the treadmill and forget the gym! Start your day with an invigorating hour-long hike thr...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/10/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Gentle Yoga

    06/10/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Hatha Yoga

    06/10/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/11/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/11/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/11/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/12/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/12/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Enjoy a night out with friends at Mt. Cuba Center! Unwind as you sip wine and create garden maste...


  • Indian turnip, eye medicine, war paint - Native Americans depended on plants for food, clothing, ...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/13/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/14/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/14/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/14/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Tropical Fun Night in Penn Park

    06/14/2015
    06:00pm — 08:00pm

    Penn Township Board of Supervisors are holding their first park event of the year! Sunday, June...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/15/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Monday's are Whiskey nights at Minihane's

    06/15/2015
    05:00pm — 11:00pm

    Whisky is not the same as Whiskey! There is some debate about whether or not Scottish distill...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    06/15/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/16/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Fitness Walks

    06/17/2015
    08:30am — 09:30am

    Turn off the treadmill and forget the gym! Start your day with an invigorating hour-long hike thr...


  • Native Plants of Summer

    06/17/2015
    09:30am — 11:30am

    When the exuberant spring wildflower display is over, summer challenges us to find eye-catching p...


  • Top 10 Wildflowers

    06/17/2015
    10:30am — 11:30am

    Save time and money by using plants that grow back every year. Instead of buying petunias, marigo...


  • Gentle Yoga

    06/17/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Hatha Yoga

    06/17/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/18/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/18/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • Chester County Balloon Festival

    06/19/2015
    09:00am — 09:00pm

    9th Annual Chester County Balloon Festival New Garden Flying Field June 19th, 20th, 21st 2015 ...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/19/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


Chester County High School Sports