Other Voices

Tax reform really is doable for the U.S.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance. AP

The responses to President Barack Obama’s call for tax reform, which he outlined as part of his State of the Union address, might indicate that the probabilities for progress on a tax overhaul with the Republican Congress and Democrat White House are near zero — zippity zilch.

Republicans, such as the influential chairman of the Senate tax-writing panel, Orrin Hatch of Utah, suggest Obama’s proposal to increase taxes on the more fortunate among us to pay for a middle class tax cut are politically motivated.

“It will be hard to work with him, no matter what,” said Hatch.

Likewise, many Democrats cry that Republicans’ only interest is protecting the very wealthy, including large multinational corporations.

What a mess.

For sure, serious and significant challenges exist, and divining a decent compromise on tax reform is as elusive as most thought back in 1986, the last time the tax code received a major makeover.

Nevertheless, the reality is that both sides deftly cloak some shared values.

Tax reform is definitely doable.

There’s an overwhelming consensus that the 70,000 pages of our current tax code are not only oppressive, but outdated.

While many Republicans have focused on the need for corporate tax reform and capital gains reductions, Hatch prefers comprehensive reform to make the system work.

Many Democrats agree. Furthermore, even as a conservative’s conservative (a 100 percent rating by the American Conservative Union just a few years ago), Hatch has a distinguished and highly commendable leadership record of working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and Capitol.

The late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., acknowledged as one of the most liberal senators (an American Conservative Union rating of zero percent, at times) was among those who not only respected and considered him a friend, but also collaborated legislatively with Hatch on numerous occasions.

Together, they were wildly successful in passing what were, initially, exceptionally controversial bills, including immigration reform, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Care Act and a landmark children’s health insurance law.

Hatch, working with conservative and moderate Democrats, as well as moderate and progressive Republicans, could rescue tax reform from death’s dark door.

He has the skills, stature and institutional history to get the job done.

Pundits and policymakers alike observed tax reform was “impossible” in 1986, but an ultimate Washington Post headline read the “Impossible that Became the Inevitable.”

It can be so once more.

Bart Chilton served at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission for seven years as part of his 30 years in government. He is now a senior policy advisor at the global law firm DLA Piper LLP. bartchilton@bartchilton.com