Fortune columnist highlights a tough federal tax reform battle

Allan Sloan of Fortune magazine focuses attention in his latest column on Michigan congressman Dave Camp‘s struggles to reach a bipartisan deal on tax reform.

Everyone talks about wanting bipartisan reform of our hideous tax code. But look at the frustrations that have befallen Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who has thrown his heart and soul into trying to get it done. Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has spent four years pushing for tax reform in various forums. “There’s no purgatory for me, because I’ve lived it on earth,” he quips, citing his service on the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission and the bipartisan Super Committee, both of which accomplished … nothing.

Camp’s suffering continues with the Tax Reform Act of 2014, a project on which he and his Democratic partner from Montana, Sen. Max Baucus, spent years seeking a consensus to take away various tax goodies and in exchange produce lower overall rates and a simpler code. This hasn’t happened since the stars miraculously aligned in 1986, producing the Bradley-Gephardt reform bill. Baucus and Camp modeled their approach on that, including hosting bipartisan burgers-and-beers at watering holes and distributing copies of Showdown at Gucci Gulch, a book about the 1986 reforms.

Why am I telling you about Camp and his travails? In order to put a human face on a dry, abstract topic. And to show you that although Washington is a mess, there are decent people there willing to do the right, bipartisan thing.

Alas, despite the burgers, beers, and books, we won’t get tax reform this year. Odds against it were always high. They became astronomical when Baucus, head of the Senate Finance Committee, gave up his seat in early February to become ambassador to China. You can understand why he did that: He’s 72, his term is up, and he wasn’t going to run for reelection.

For reasons you’ll soon see, private equity, giant financial institutions, and real estate interests, among others, attacked Camp’s bill, introduced on Feb. 26. There are things in the bill to annoy almost everyone, which is why I like much of it — and why it deserves serious consideration, which it isn’t getting.

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