By Kim Dixon
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The political goal is the same as it was in the mid-1980s – seed grass-roots support for an overhaul of the U.S. tax code – but the approach launched Thursday relies on email, not snail mail.
The chairmen of Congress’s tax-writing committees have unveiled a Web site they hope will boost public support for overhauling the tax code in the same way that a “Write Rosty” letter-writing campaign did a quarter-century ago.
TaxReform.gov, created by Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat, and Representative Dave Camp, a Republican, asks Americans to share their stories and ideas about tax reform.
The site’s home page heading says, “Comprehensive Tax Reform: building a tax code for the 21st century.”
Not since 1985-1986 has the U.S. government revamped the tax code. The last successful effort was led by Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Representative Dan Rostenkowski, who then held the position that Camp holds today.
As chairman of the tax-writing House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, Rostenkowski asked the public to “Write Rosty” if they backed his effort to reform the tax code along with Reagan. More than 75,000 letters to Rostenkowski poured in.
Camp has vowed to move a tax reform bill out of Ways and Means this year. Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, has said he wants to spend much of the remaining time before his 2014 retirement working on tax reform.
Current polls show the public wants a simpler tax code, but major obstacles confront Baucus and Camp.
One problem is the stubborn political divide over whether tax reform should result in increased tax revenue. Another is the difficulty of eliminating scores of tax breaks prized by individuals and corporations alike.
President Barack Obama backs a tax code rewrite and he has listed detailed proposals in repeated budget plans, but he has not pursued that objective as aggressively as Reagan did.
There are other significant differences from the Reagan-Rostenkowski era and the current tax reform effort.
Clint Stretch, a former senior congressional tax staffer, said: “Reagan talked about tax reform constantly and it was well received in stump speeches.”
In 1986, the tax code was less complex and the tax loopholes being exploited were more glaring. Reform advocates also won the backing of a big share of the business community.
Today’s business community is more divided, and the code is loaded with hundreds of special exemptions, deductions and other favors to special interests. Also, the lobbying industry that protects each of these is larger and more entrenched.
“The public, just like in 1985, is naturally skeptical of tax reform,” Camp and Baucus said in a joint statement.
“The kind of engagement the ‘Write Rosty’ campaign sparked nearly 30 years ago is even easier today thanks to the Internet and social media. That’s why the chairmen are launching TaxReform.gov” and a @simplertaxes Twitter handle,” they said.
(Reporting by Kim Dixon; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Vicki Allen)