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A sweeping proposal to revamp and simplify the nation's complex tax code made its debut today on Capitol Hill. The plan comes from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp. The proposal would cut corporate and individual tax rates, just as his fellow Republicans have long sought. Still, there is scant enthusiasm in Washington for doing anything about the tax code in this election year; that is, anything other than talk about it.
NPR's David Welna has our report.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: In the three years Michigan Republican Dave Camp has wielded the gavel on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, his abiding ambition has been overhauling the tax code. The last time that happened was 28 years ago. Facing the prospect of having to relinquish his gavel at the end of this year, Camp declared today, it's time to start the debate on an update.
REPRESENTATIVE DAVID CAMP: There have been so many changes to the tax code over the last decade, more than one every day, that it's now 10 times the size of the Bible with none of the good news.
WELNA: The rewrite Camp unveiled repeals more than 200 sections of the current tax code. Its main aim is to give American taxpayers what he said they want, a tax code that's simpler, fairer, and flatter.
CAMP: We flatten the tax code by reducing rates and collapsing today's seven brackets into two brackets of 10 and 25 percent for virtually all taxable income, insuring that over 99 percent of taxpayers face maximum rates of 25 percent or less.
WELNA: The corporate tax rate would also be reduced to 25 percent from its current level of 35 percent. So would the top income tax rate of about 40 percent. But that would not mean less revenue for the Treasury, Camp said, because gigantic tax breaks would be eliminated as well. State and local taxes could no longer be deducted. Households making $450,000 a year or more would have to pay a 10 percent surtax, and the income of hedge fund managers, known as carried interest, would be taxed as earned income rather than at lower investment tax rates. Asked today about those details, House Speaker John Boehner brushed them off.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Blah, blah, blah, blah. Listen, there's a conversation that needs to begin. This is the beginning of the conversation.
WELNA: Boehner was then pressed about when this plan, which he did not explicitly endorse, might be acted on by the House.
BOEHNER: Jesus. We're going to start the conversation today.
WELNA: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who is in line to succeed Camp at the tax-writing panel, was also vague about how soon the House might act.
REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: We'll see. We're going to move this issue as far as we can move it and I believe, at the end of the day, we will reform this tax code because the status quo is completely indefensible.
WELNA: On the opposite side of the Capitol, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was decidedly pessimistic when asked yesterday about the prospects for Camp's tax rewrite.
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: I have no hope for that happening this year.
WELNA: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid praised Camp for his proposal but saw little chance of it moving forward.
SENATOR HARRY REID: It would be extremely difficult with the obstruction that we get here from the Republicans on virtually everything.
WELNA: Some Republicans, in fact, openly question Camp's push for a tax rewrite. One of them is North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry.
REPRESENTATIVE PATRICK MCHENRY: I've got enormous respect for Dave Camp, but great concerns with the details of this policy, much less releasing it at a time where we have no partner in the Senate or in the White House to have a major undertaking in tax reform.
WELNA: Despite such pushback coming from his own party, Camp says he can't wait any longer for a revised tax code.
CAMP: That's why it's coming out this week. We're ready.
WELNA: Even if a lot of other lawmakers don't seem to be. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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