JUST IN:

Restaurant shuts down abruptly at The Greene

Opinion: Fixing the ‘rotting carcass’ tax code


WASHINGTON — Cynics are said to be people who are prematurely disappointed about the future. Such dyspepsia is encouraged by watching Republicans struggle to move on from the dog’s breakfast they have made of health care reform to the mare’s nest of tax reform. Concerning which, House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose preternatural optimism makes Candide seem morose, says: “If we’re going to truly fix our tax code, then we’ve got to fix all of it.” Trying to fix “all of” immigration in 2013 and health care in 2010 with “comprehensive” legislation left almost everyone irritable. Sen. Ron Wyden is skeptical about fixing much this year, even given Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to limit the August recess.

The fourth-most senior Democrat and ranking minority member on the tax-writing Finance Committee, Wyden, 68, is usually relaxed but now is especially so, for two reasons. He was just elected to a fourth term. And for him and other Finance Committee Democrats, tax reform is, so far, an undemanding spectator sport. This was underscored last weekend when, as he was being driven from one Oregon town hall to another, he read a Wall Street Journal story headlined: “GOP Tax Overhaul’s Fate Rests on ‘Big Six’ Talks.”

Five of the six were in an almost taunting photo provided to the Journal by Ryan’s office — Ryan, McConnell, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The missing sixth person was National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn. No congressional Democrat is included. Evidently, Republicans plan to pass tax reform without Democratic votes, under “reconciliation,” which is inherently partisan — 51 votes will suffice — and limits debate to 20 hours.

Ryan and McConnell say tax reform will be “revenue neutral.” This might require dynamic scoring — calculating that reformed incentives will stimulate economic growth — to project implausible growth rates. Plausibility is, however, optional, as it was in April, when Mnuchin’s department produced a tax plan that resembled Lincoln’s “soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.” The document — “shorter than a drug store receipt,” says Wyden — was one page long, contained 218 words, eight numbers and a thumping vacuity, the promise to “eliminate tax breaks for special interests.”

No Democrat, says Wyden, likes the status quo. When he recently described the tax code as “a rotting economic carcass,” his wife asked him to stop scaring the children. The complexity of the code, which is more than 4 million words, is why America has more people employed as tax preparers (1.2 million) than as police and firefighters.

Wyden knows he sounds like “a one-song juke box” when he keeps stressing “wage growth” but he notes that last week the encouraging number of jobs created in June (222,000) was accompanied by discouraging wage growth (year-over-year, 2.5 percent, barely ahead of inflation). Many economists are puzzled that low unemployment (4.4 percent) is not forcing employers to bid up the price of labor. Wyden says he is puzzled by neither the cause (persistent slow growth, limping at around 2 percent) nor the cause of this cause — insufficient money in middle-class paychecks to power an economy where 70 percent of the fuel comes from consumer spending. He favors, for example, doubling the earned income tax credit. He seems, however, to be pre-emptively, but not prematurely, disappointed about a legislative process that will fall somewhat short of fixing “all of” what ails the rotting carcass.

Writes for The Washington Post.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

From print to e-books, sadly but inevitably

I’ve got cards from four libraries but haven’t checked a book out in a year. Which is strange, because I came from a printing/publishing family, worked part-time in school libraries during college, and can read. What happened? One hyphenated pseudo-word, “e-books.” I still like the look and feel of print books and the smell...
Cruelty, incompetence and lies

Graham-Cassidy, the health bill the Senate may vote on next week, is stunningly cruel. It’s also incompetently drafted: The bill’s sponsors clearly had no idea what they were doing when they put it together. Furthermore, their efforts to sell the bill involve obvious, blatant lies. Nonetheless, the bill could pass. The Affordable Care Act...
Politicking in Ohio is about deals, not ideals

In about 60 weeks, Ohio will elect its next governor. Between now and then, you’ll hear a lot about programs, platforms – and “philosophy.” In terms of Ohio politics, those big words mean exactly nothing. Politicking in Ohio isn’t about ideals. It’s about deals: Who gets what, and how, and when. The successful candidate...
Opinion: The steep cost of cheap speech

WASHINGTON — At this shank end of a summer that a calmer America someday will remember with embarrassment, you must remember this: In the population of 325 million, a small sliver crouches on the wilder shores of politics, another sliver lives in the dark forest of mental disorder, and there is a substantial overlap between these slivers. At...
Working from the ground up to get rid of ‘food deserts’
Working from the ground up to get rid of ‘food deserts’

Q: What is the Gem City Market project all about? Klein: The Gem City Market will be a vibrant worker- and community-owned full-service grocery store on lower Salem Avenue, just across the river from downtown Dayton. The incubation of the market has been a community-driven effort aimed at addressing the needs of Daytonians who live in what the United...
More Stories