In the Colosseum

Why I Voted ‘No’ on Ryan

The GOP needs to make good on its promise for tax reform.

By From the June 2012 issue

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Mark Twain is credited for saying, “Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

I would never call the American people “naïve” for believing that a politician would follow through on the promises made while on the campaign trail. But they are often pleasantly surprised when one of those politicians actually believes he should make good on commitments to voters.

The 2010 Republican campaign platform, known as “The Pledge to America,” contained many laudable and worthwhile goals, including promises to cut $100 billion of spending in the first year of a Republican majority, renew transparency and openness in the law-making process, and stop permanently all job-killing tax hikes.

The promised cuts never happened. In fact, Congress committed to spending more in Fiscal Year 2012 than it had in Fiscal Year 2011. And this Congress took out another $2.1 trillion in debt to be repaid by future generations. Sure, requirements to reduce spending were included in the overall package, but to this date, nothing has been cut. To make matters worse, efforts are underway to delay or cancel these planned cuts before they even take place.

Sunlight shined for a few months—notably during the lengthy floor debate and open amendment process for H.R. 1—but disappeared soon thereafter. The 72-hour rule, a commitment to give the public three days to examine bills before considering them, was set aside for some of the most expensive pieces of legislation, including the December 2011 “megabus.”

When it comes to tax reform, Republicans still have a chance to make good on their promise. But the clock is ticking. The U.S. now suffers from the highest corporate tax rate in the world, coupled with the looming expiration of the Bush-Obama tax cuts at the end of this year, when income, capital gains, and death taxes will all increase. On top of that, the Social Security tax holiday expires at the end of December. And we cannot forget about non-tax issues coming in the next few months: the debt ceiling will be breached again, and it is unlikely a budget will be in place for the fiscal year beginning October 1.

When the House passed the “Path to Prosperity” budget drafted by my colleague, Rep. Paul Ryan, “tax reform” was included, but in name only. The bill lacked a provision that would have required a later House vote on such reform, which meant that its proposal was merely a few words on a page. For that reason, I was one of two Republicans on the Budget Committee who opposed the Ryan budget in committee, and one of ten House Republicans to oppose it on the floor.

No doubt Ryan deserves praise and recognition for his willingness to offer a bold budget. Finally someone in Washington is talking about the fiscal crisis that is already bad, and about to get worse as a result of out-of-control entitlement spending. Unfortunately, he is up against establishment forces that prefer not to rock the boat, and hope that things will just quiet down until after the election.

While many in Washington talk about the need for comprehensive tax reform to provide some much-needed “certainty,” there is not a plan—let alone any action—for turning this talk into reality. Soon enough, December will roll around, and a lame-duck Congress (and, hopefully, a lame-duck President) will have to sort out the mess with little political incentive to make bold changes.

One way to avoid the end-of-year looming tax hikes is to make permanent the Bush-Obama tax cuts. I have introduced The American Opportunity and Freedom Act (H.R. 3804) to ensure income and capital gains taxes remain at the rates families have enjoyed for the past decade. This legislation repeals the death tax and alternative minimum tax, and prevents the Obamacare taxes from going into effect in 2014.

It is to the political advantage of Republicans to push for comprehensive tax reform now, not after the election. After all, it is one of the few remaining opportunities to fulfill a promise made to voters just two years ago. Let’s gratify some, astonish the rest, and get tax reform done once and for all.

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About the Author

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, (KS-1), serves on the House Budget, Agriculture, and Veterans' Affairs committees.