The big tax talk today is the prognostications that the Debit Reduction Super Committee won’t make their report deadline. This isn’t a big surprise. I wrote a post last month where Secretary Geithner was quoted saying that the committee wouldn’t have a report on time. They can continue to work on a proposal but automatic budget cuts will start being put into place.
Why can’t they come to agreement? Much has to do with partisanship and different views of what will be best for the economy and the country. But Congress has always been made up of individuals with different views of the best action and still managed to function. What’s different now?
Last night I happened to catch part of an interview with Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig on C-SPAN. They were discussing his book Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop It. His thesis is that costs of running for Congress have changed the priorities for most of our elected officials. Public service has taken a second place to raising funds for re-election. Allotment of Congressional benefits such as committee seats are based on fundraising ability rather than knowledge and experience.
I haven’t read Professor Lessig’s book yet but the theory makes sense. It takes a strong Congressperson to vote to cut the Mortgage Interest Deduction when he/she knows they will need a contribution from the Realtor’s Association to stay in office. Let’s face it, Congress is no sooner sworn in than they start campaigning for re-election. It’s amazing that anything gets done but campaigning.
We need tax reform. We need to decide what we want our tax system to look like and build a Tax Code that reflects that ideal. Since it’s very clear that under the current dependence on contributions that can’t happen, maybe we need to take a step back and fix that problem first. Take care of campaign reform first. Then, with their dependence on re-election money ended, Congress can concentrate on building a tax system that’s fair for all.