It's an approach that has been tried before and worked. Ronald Reagan called for such a reform in 1984, and after much negotiating, it was hammered out in 1986. Lead roles were played by Treasury Secretary James Baker; the Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Dan Rostenkowski; and the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Bob Packwood.
It wasn't easy work, and at one point it required an extra pitcher or two of beer at an Irish pub for Packwood and his staffers.
Mitt Romney has endorsed a similar procedure. So has Paul Ryan, who included it in the budget he steered to passage in the House.
Romney and Ryan have been criticized for not providing specifics on which tax preferences they would eliminate.
But neither did the Simpson-Bowles Commission, which said "the precise details and exact transition rules should be worked out in a variety of ways by the relevant congressional committees and the Treasury Department." That's how it worked in 1984-86.
And at least some of the relevant congressional players have been working at it already. Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp has been working the numbers and says he will be ready to advance a proposal next year if, as seems likely, Republicans hold their House majority.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, who will be finance committee chairman if Republicans win a majority in the Senate, says he is ready to move, too. He says he has a good working relationship with the committee's top Democrat, Max Baucus.
Baucus has been willing to work on bipartisan proposals in the past, especially when he is about to face the voters in Republican-leaning Montana. He supported the 2001 Bush tax cuts when his seat was up in 2002, and it's up again in 2014.
Those criticizing Romney and Ryan for being unspecific point out, correctly, that the tax preferences whose abolition or limitation would produce the most tax revenue are widely popular. There was little support on either side of the aisle for an Obama proposal to further limit the deductibility of charitable contributions, for example.
But people may be ready to limit the home mortgage deduction. Rude events have shown us that the tax code confers an outsize benefit to people who buy homes.
Encouraging home ownership sounds like a worthy goal. But do we really have to allow full deductibility of a $1,000,000 home mortgage to do so? Anyone who can qualify for a loan that size will probably want to buy in any case.
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