In 1975, the tax code contained 700,000 words. Today the word count stands at 3.8 million—that’s about 6,000 copies of this column. In the past decade, there have been 4,428 changes to the tax code, including more than 579 changes in 2010 alone. In 2008, taxpayers spent $163 billion trying to comply with the individual and corporate income tax rules, which was roughly equal to the GDP of Pakistan last year.
The bottom line: Our tax system is too complex, time-consuming and costly, and it’s a contributing reason to why we are in the economic turmoil we find ourselves in today.
In January, President Obama included in his most recent State of the Union address that tax reform should be a priority for this Congress and his administration—and I completely agree. Unless we take bold steps now, the United States will continue to stand idly by as other countries advance as hubs of economic prosperity. But it will take both sides of the Capitol and the White House together to make tax reform a reality.
The Tax Reform Act of 1986 was the last time Congress passed comprehensive tax reform legislation. President Reagan made this a priority after his re-election in 1984, and many credit his direct involvement with its successful passage. As we begin this challenge again, two very important lessons should be kept in mind—presidential leadership is critical to success, and a long-term commitment to see this process and transition through is necessary.
The committee of jurisdiction for congressional action is the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees our entire tax code, as well as certain entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare. I was recently selected by leadership in the House to serve as a member of this committee, a position which will place me on the front lines of the evolving tax reform debate. The committee has already begun to hold hearings on tax reform, soliciting ideas from individual taxpayers, small businesses and large employers about how we can create a new system which will enhance American competitiveness in the world and attract jobs and investment here at home. Additional consideration must be given to how the transition will be orchestrated from the system currently in place to a new, leaner and more economically competitive tax code.
As it was in the mid-1980s, we are faced with a burdensome tax structure that puts the United States at a disadvantage in the global marketplace. There is consensus that the corporate tax rate should be reduced and individual tax rates should be lowered to attract investment here in the U.S. This will lessen the financial grip currently holding companies back from expanding and put more money back in the bank accounts of individuals—not to mention be a relief to small business owners, many of whom file their business and individual taxes jointly. We need to do away with a tax code that favors a few industries and instead, lower rates for every taxpayer and business so that we can better compete in a global economy. I believe these two areas should become the catalyst for the larger tax reform package that is developed.
In the meantime, as Congress and the president work together to reach this goal, it’s important that we all move systematically together to ensure the stability of domestic industries, rather than any branch of government getting out too far ahead of the other.
There is not going to be an overnight solution, but there are steps we must begin taking now to put our country back on the path toward sustained economic prosperity. I welcome this opportunity—now we must do something with it. iBi