Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is pursuing an ambitious goal of revising the country's tax code to raise revenue, but the senator from Montana revealed Monday at the Bipartisan Policy Center that he still has some homework to do.
Asked how his plan differed from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp's tax proposal from last fall, Baucus failed to articulate the differences.
"I'm not sure what he proposed, frankly," Baucus says. "None of us know precisely."
Former White House budget adviser and economist Alice Rivlin, who spoke later at the event, dismissed the gaffe, saying Baucus dodged the question simply in an attempt to keep his own plan under wraps.
Baucus later said he has been in communication with Camp.
But Baucus has been caught on the spot before. In 2010, during a town hall forum on healthcare with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, the Flathead Beacon reported that Baucus told a Montana resident who asked about specific oddities in the bill that "I don't think you want me to waste my time to read every page of the health care bill. You know why? It's statutory language," Baucus said. "We hire experts."
While he is keeping specifics and the deadline for a new tax plan in flux, Baucus hinted Monday that his plan will revise dozens of tax loopholes.
"Most economists agree that lowering rates and paying for it by getting rid of tax expenditures generates growth," Baucus said. "Tax breaks have doubled since 1986 and now cost as much in revenue as the entire tax [code] brings in. Some are worthwhile, but many fail to create jobs or spur growth."
While Baucus says he doesn't want to poison a new plan with election year politics and likely won't reveal it until after November, his committee has already held several roundtable discussions, reached out to economists, labor groups, and tax experts, and held hearings to focus on the specifics of what tax reform would look like, all in an effort to attract a bipartisan coalition. [Read more about the deficit and national debt.]
"We [need to] use tax reform to get the results our economy needs," Baucus said. "More jobs, greater competitiveness, more innovation and clearly more opportunity."
But Baucus didn't shy away from addressing the upcoming political hurdles that will likely befall his reform efforts. Instead, he advised fellow lawmakers to see the big picture when considering his proposals.
"Tax reform is a once-in-a-generation opportunity," Baucus said. "We can cement America's preeminence."