Back in 2013, shortly after being sworn in as Wisconsin’s junior senator, Tammy Baldwin delivered a heartfelt speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate saying, “as I’ve traveled the state, Wisconsinites have told me that the powerful and well-connected seem to get to write their own rules.” A letter to two influential members of a tax committee soon followed making the case for creating a tax code “that respects and rewards hard work and not just wealth.”
Now Congress is set to dramatically overhaul the current tax code for the first time since 1986, and we will soon find out if Baldwin meant what she said, or if she plans to let politics get in the way of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rewrite the U.S. tax code to make it fairer, flatter and simpler.
The fact is the tax code pits the least fortunate against the well-connected and takes too much hard-earned money from ordinary Americans struggling to get by. In other words, the opposite of respecting and rewarding hard work.
And that’s just half the story.
Filing our taxes has also become incredibly complex and time consuming. According to some estimates, the U.S. tax code is 4 million words long requiring 6 billion hours of taxpayer time to comply.
No surprise then that the tax compliance industry is booming as the tax code balloons into a monstrosity of words and numbers.
But for those who can afford to hire well-paid lawyers, accountants and lobbyists, the current tax code is a gold mine of tax breaks, loopholes, subsidies and corporate handouts. In fact, there are about 4,000 tax lobbyists working for special interests in Washington, D.C., alone.
This rigged system is hurting ordinary Americans and killing the American Dream. Congress should overcome its partisan divide and take advantage of an opportunity that we haven’t seen in over a generation. The American people deserve a tax system that doesn’t play favorites at their expense.
They should also be able to keep more of their hard-earned money. The framework proposed by leaders in Congress and the Trump Administration would lower rates and provide relief across the board. This is encouraging because we can look to previous times to see what tax cuts mean in real dollars and jobs created. In the five-year period after President Ronald Reagan cut taxes, per-capita disposable income rose by $2,715. And after President George W. Bush cut taxes, the economy added 6.9 million jobs. Every single member of Congress should support this kind of economic growth, regardless of political party.
Of course, it’s never that simple.
Lawmakers can expect fierce opposition to tax reform. Leading the charge will include the army of special interest groups (including the well-paid lawyers, accountants and lobbyists) benefiting from the rigged system. And they have Washington politicians in their pocket who will oppose tax relief, even though the people in the states they represent would all benefit from a simpler, fairer and flatter tax code.
Opportunities to dramatically rewrite the tax code don’t come around very often. Sen. Baldwin and the rest of our congressional delegation need to deliver on their past promises and stand up to corporate cronies and the hundreds of thousands of special-interest groups benefiting from our broken tax system.
Wisconsinites deserve tax relief, and a plan to boost wages, increase competitiveness and grow the economy. A good tax plan will do just that.