House Democrats plan to take the argument for tax simplification to voters this fall, thus venturing into traditional Republican territory.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will lead the charge, accusing the Republicans of complicating the tax code for individual filers and smalls businesses.
The move appears to be a classic “triangulation” tactic, so named by former presidential adviser Dick Morris, in which one party colonizes political territory traditionally occupied by its opposition.
Republicans say Democratic talk of tax simplification is simply code for revenue increases.
Some Democrats agreed with that Republican assessment and seemed to welcome a nationwide debate on tax simplification versus additional tax cuts.
A few Republicans are clearly were worried that their failure to reform the tax code in nearly 10 years as the governing party could resonate with voters.
Hoyer’s move seeks to pre-empt a GOP plan to dedicate floor time in the House next week to the subject of tax-code simplification.
The Democrats’ No. 2 accused Republicans of having “spent 40 months making it more complicated, adding 10,000 pages, give or take a hundred, to the tax code by what they have done over the last 40 months and made it exceedingly more complex, not less so.”
“We need to obviously deal with AMT [alternative minimum tax]. We need to deal with form-free filing. We think we can probably get to where the overwhelming majority, 80 to 90 percent, of the people do not have to file a form,” Hoyer added.
On Tuesday, Hoyer spoke to the Urban Institute on the subject, claiming part responsibility for a tax system he called an “embarrassment.”
“Who’s responsible for this? We all are. Democrats and Republicans, and every American who believes that the tax preferences that he or she utilizes are worthwhile,” said Hoyer.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) mocked the idea of Democrats pursuing a more simplified tax code. “Let me say the Democrats’ version of tax simplification is: ‘How much do you make? And give me all of it,’” he said.
“I mean, that is their philosophy. They have no credibility on this issue. They’re the ones that have basically designed this tax code. And I can’t wait to see their tax simplification plan.”
But some Democrats appeared to relish the debate. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said, “Whether the call for simplification trumps increased taxes, I think that is something we can debate.
“There’s a percentage of regular Americans that think a whole different set of rules applies for well-to-do and connected people when it comes to taxes.”
Some Republicans were also critical of their own party for failing to enact comprehensive tax reform.
“We’ve been here long enough,” said Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.). “We better deliver a simplified tax code. I think this should be a centerpiece of reform for congressional Republican candidates. Instead of tax cuts, we should be talking tax simplification.”
It was unclear how prominent of a role the Democrats’ call for simplification would play in the coming election. But Hoyer vowed that it would be a key theme, on a par with Medicare. Aides said that the final decisions had not yet been made.
Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.), a longtime advocate for streamlining the tax code, conceded that its overall size has grown under the Republicans’ tenure.
“We need to cut through this, there’s a lot of fog,” he said, “The code is far too long and continues to grow.”
However, Cox also said that he welcomes Democrats to the debate. “Well, the more the merrier,” he said.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) disputed the Democrats’ sincerity, saying, “Tax simplification can mean tax increases.”
But Democratic lawmakers vow to ratchet up their rhetoric and insist they have polling data to support their claims.
“If you’re a lawyer or an accountant, this tax code is perfect for you,” said Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-Ill.).