Barron’s D.C. man chides Republican congressional leaders on taxes

James McTague of Barron’s has little good to say about Republican congressional leaders’ response to the latest proposal for federal tax reform.

The Republican Party demonstrated last week that it is no longer “the party of no,” as President Barack Obama derisively describes it. Now it is “the party of duck and cover.” Republicans are shying away from any proposal that might cause public controversy, even one that builds solidly on the GOP’s bedrock principle of tax reform. This is evidence of an inferiority complex that is justifiable. The Republican Party’s election machinery is a relic of the analog age. Obama’s digital get-out-the-vote machine is state of the art, and embodies what young, swing voters perceive as cool. As a consequence, the midterm election could deviate from the historical norm that sees the president’s party losing congressional seats and turn out to be closer than predicted.

HENCE, WE WATCHED the GOP’s leadership distance itself from House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp’s tax-overhaul blueprint—a document squarely in the tradition of Ronald Reagan, the party’s patron saint. Camp’s thoughtful proposal, coming when it did, underscores the frivolity of Obama’s tax-and-spend budget, due to be released on March 4. Yet, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell downplayed the relevancy of Camp’s plan the day before its debut. When Camp eventually trotted out his proposal, House Speaker John Boehner spoke of it as a possible opening gambit, rather than a thoroughly thought-out plan worthy of serious debate.

Thinking Republicans were perplexed by the frosty reception. “What’s the point of having power, if we aren’t going to tell people what we want to do,” said former Republican Policy Committee economist Ike Brannon, who now runs Capital Policy Analytics.

Camp’s proposal might not be Steve Forbes flat—the magazine publisher, vying for the GOP nomination in 1996 and 2000, suggested a single rate of 17%—but it’s significantly simpler than the current tax code, and is aggressively pro growth. The Michigan Republican wants a 25% corporate tax rate—down from the current top of 35%. And he’d collapse today’s seven brackets for individuals to three: 10% for joint incomes below $71,200, 25% for joint incomes starting at $71,201, and 35% for some joint incomes exceeding $450,000.

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