House Republican focuses on tax reform but sees no quick fix
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Republican tax legislator on Tuesday renewed a vow to try overhauling the complex federal tax code this year, but he said no actual legislation would be forthcoming soon.
Dave Camp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, said that major tax reform remains his top 2013 goal.
"We have to build this legislation. This is not a bill we are ready to roll out," Camp told reporters at a briefing. "It is certainly not going to be in the next six weeks."
Camp, of Michigan, leads one of the most coveted panels in Congress, with power over tax, healthcare financing and trade.
But several years of 11th-hour budget deals engineered by congressional party leaders to hold off various fiscal crises have diminished the power of Capitol Hill's committee chairmen.
For example, the January 1 legislation that staved off the so-called fiscal cliff bypassed Ways and Means. Instead, it was crafted by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Vice President Joe Biden behind closed doors.
Camp at one point had proposed crafting a tax reform bill by April, something that now looks unlikely. At the briefing, he pledged to do a tax rewrite through the committee process. He said he has a "green light" on this from House Speaker John Boehner.
At the same time, some Republicans question whether going through the process of tax reform is worth the effort since it is unclear if it could pass both houses of Congress, according to a top Republican aide.
Camp, in parallel with Democratic Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, has held dozens of hearings in recent years on tax issues, from debt finance to tax exempt organizations.
The hard part: any tax code overhaul would require tough political choices, including closing "loopholes" that many taxpayers hold dear. "I'm not naive about how difficult this is, how complicated this is," Camp said.
Camp, asked if he backed President Barack Obama's long-standing proposal to limit the value of deductions on tax breaks such as for home mortgage interest and municipal bond interest to a rate of 28 percent, said he was not going to endorse it "at this time." Currently, the benefit of tax deductions rises in step with a taxpayer's marginal tax rate.
Camp repeated his goal of trimming top rates for individuals and corporations to 25 percent. The top corporate tax rate is now at 35 percent; for individuals it is 39.6 percent.
He sought to encourage a dialogue with the White House. He declined to knock Obama, as some Republicans have, for not devoting more political muscle to a tax revamp.
While some Republicans voted against Obama's nominee for Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, in a Senate vote on Tuesday, Camp said he looks forward to working with him.
Camp has so far released two "discussion drafts" on technical topics - international corporate taxation and derivatives taxation - seeking input from businesses.
Camp said he expects further detailed drafts this year, but declined to comment on what those would entail.
He repeated his stance that individual and corporate tax changes should be done in tandem, and he said he still opposes doing business tax reform on its own.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Leslie Adler)
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