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Rep. David Camp Releases Tax Overhaul Plan

Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., left, walks with House Energy and Commerce Committee Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. to a Republican caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington.
J. Scott Applewhite
Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., left, walks with House Energy and Commerce Committee Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. to a Republican caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington.

In the three years Republican Rep. David Camp has wielded the gavel of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, overhauling the tax code has been his abiding ambition.

The last revamping of the tax code was 28 years ago, and facing the prospect of having to relinquish that gavel at the end of this year, Camp declared today the time has come to start the debate on a new tax code overhaul.

Camp's plan would cut corporate and individual tax rates — just as his fellow Republicans have long sought. Still, there is scant enthusiasm on Capitol Hill for doing anything this election year on a tax code rewrite than simply talking about it.

"There have been so many changes to the tax code over the last decade, more than one every day, that it's now 10 times the size of the bible with none of the good news," Camp said.

The rewrite Camp unveiled repeals more than 200 sections of the current tax code. Its main aim, he said, is to give American taxpayers what he said they want: a tax code that's simpler, fairer and flatter.

"We flatten the tax code by reducing rates and collapsing today's seven brackets into two brackets of 10 and 25 percent for virtually all taxable income, insuring that over 99 percent of taxpayers face maximum rates of 25 percent or less," he said.

The corporate tax rate would also be reduced to 25 percent from its current level of 35 percent as would the top income tax rate of about 40 percent.

But that would not mean less revenue for the Treasury because gigantic tax breaks would be eliminated as well, Camp said. State and local taxes could not be deducted. Households making $450,000 or more would have to pay a 10 percent surtax, and the income of hedge fund managers, known as carried interest, would be taxed as earned income rather than at lower investment tax rates.

Asked today about those details, House Speaker John Boehner sought to brush them off.

"Blah blah blah blah. Listen, there's a conversation that needs to begin. This is the beginning of the conversation," Boehner said.

Boehner was then pressed about when this plan, which he did not explicitly endorse, might be acted on by the House: "We're going to start the conversation today."

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who is in line to succeed Camp at the tax-writing panel, was also evasive about how soon the House might act.

"We'll see. We're gonna move this issue as far as we can move it, and I believe at the end of the day, we will reform this tax code because the status quo is completely indefensible," he said.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was markedly pessimistic when asked yesterday about the prospects for Camp's tax rewrite.

"I have no hope for that happening this year," McConnell said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid praised Camp for his proposal, but said he saw little chance of it moving forward because of obstruction from Republican lawmakers.

Some Republicans, in fact, openly question Camp's push for a tax rewrite.

"I've got enormous respect for Dave Camp, but great concerns with the details of this policy, much less releasing it at a time where we have no partner in the Senate or the White House to have a major undertaking in tax reform," said North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry.

Despite such pushback coming from his own party, Camp says he can't wait any longer for a revised tax code:

"That's why it's coming out this week — we're ready," he said.

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David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.