Paul Dykewicz

Advocates of comprehensive tax reform in the United States should expect to start over in the next Congress due to the dim prospects that anything major will happen before the current legislative year ends in December, a key U.S. senator said.

A lack of consensus on tax reform issues and relatively little time to advance any legislation -- without the long-shot possibility of becoming an amendment to a broad budget bill -- leave little hope to make any progress on the short term, said Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.). Whether you agree with Sen. Cardin’s politics or not, he is one of the lawmakers in Congress who has taken a strong interest in tax issues throughout his political career and he has the ear of Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Any effort to reform the current U.S. tax code is a nearly “impossible task,” Sen. Cardin said.

I once interviewed then-Rep. Cardin with a few other journalists on a Sunday morning news program on WJZ-TV 13 in Baltimore when I was the business editor of a daily newspaper there and I asked him about alternatives to the current unpopular tax system. I learned that his staff at the time was looking into the value-added tax commonly used in Europe as a possible substitute for the U.S. income tax.

Since then, he sought and won election to the U.S. Senate, as well as crafted his plan as a “progressive consumption” tax that would eliminate income taxes for 90 percent of U.S. taxpayers. Many conservative readers will cringe at the word “progressive” involving any tax reform proposal, just as liberal readers would object to any change in the tax system that they view as leaving the so-called “rich” -- however defined -- not paying enough.

The good news for both sides is that our political system does not allow legislation to be passed unless a majority of the members of Congress are willing to support it. At times, gridlock on a specific issue serves a purpose -- if simply to focus lawmakers on pursuing important matters that need to be addressed, such as budget issues, and putting proposals that have no chance of passing this Congress on the backburner to consider another time.

Thankfully, hearings, studies and research by staff members allow issues to be explored before any legislation is passed. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) also can give opinions on what potential changes in revenue-collecting activities could mean for the budget and the annual federal deficit.