Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., says that the ongoing battle over whether to extend the 2001 and 2003 George W Bush tax cuts or allow to them expire is the wrong issue for members of Congress to debate. "Either proposal, Bush or Obama, means that you will ratify into stone a broken, discredited tax system." Wyden said.
Many Democrats want to let the tax cuts at the top income rate expire at the end of the year. Republicans counter that letting the cuts expire would amount to a tax increase that would damage the economy.
Instead, Wyden contended that the tax discussion should focus on making the tax system easier to understand. Wyden thinks the current system, which he says takes Americans 7.6 billion hours to comply with over 10,000 tax sections, stifles growth and limits job creation.
More importantly, he says, when the tax code gives the taxpayer benefits, people often don't understand how to use it. "The stimulus bill had $300 billion in tax breaks in it. If you ask people they'll say there was no tax relief in that bill there was spending and a bunch of studies, but that wasn't tax relief." According to Wyden, simplifying the code will allow taxpayers to use the benefits in the system.
When asked who was to blame for the current tax mess, Wyden singled out a familiar foe: special interests. "Anyone who can lobby a very narrow tax break at he Ways and Means and Finance Committees and get congressperson x to vote for their side." He said that limiting this influence is essential to reaching a bipartisan agreement on the tax code.
Pointing to the tax reform policies enacted during the Reagan administration, Wyden says tax reform could be something where both sides can work together. "All of the prognosticators are predicting gridlock for as far as the eye can see," Wyden said, "We believe that major tax reform is the issue that can break that gridlock."
It may not be as easy as Wyden thinks though. A recent Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection poll asked Americans if they admire political leaders who make compromises or stick to their positions. A 49 percent plurality said that they admire leaders who stick to their positions, and a whopping 62 percent of Republicans said they look up to legislators who stand firm.