One of the last things the House did last week before leaving Washington for five weeks was to spend time and energy defining legislative masturbation.
At least that's the inescapable conclusion when you read H.R. 6169, the "Pathway to Job Creation through a Simpler, Fairer Tax Code Act of 2012."
That bill, which passed 232-189, supposedly would set up a fast-track process for tax reform by requiring the House Ways and Means Committee to report a bill by April 30, 2013. The full House would then be required to vote on whatever the committee approved within a month.
This was total nonsense and an absolute waste of the House's time and taxpayer money. Even if H.R. 6169 were considered and passed by the Senate (which the leadership knew would never happen), there's no way that a comprehensive tax reform bill will be adopted that quickly in the House or, as the House-passed legislation requires, that a final bill will be sent to the White House by the end of the summer 2013.
The last comprehensive tax reform effort in 1986 took two years from start to finish and, given that there's even less consensus now than there was then about what to do and Congress is far more partisan today than in the 1980s, there's absolutely no reason to think that it will require any less time now.
And, as CG&G alum Pete Davis, who was a staffer on the Joint Tax Committee in the 1980s and helped draft the 1986 act, always reminds me, it took a full year just to draft the transition rules back after there was a general agreement about what should be done.
Tax reform means eliminating existing credits and deductions and that means that those that get them will fight like hell to prevent it from happening. More important, it also means that the House and Senate members who have strong feelings for those credits and deductions and the industries, companies, communities, individuals, and charities that get them have to vote at least once against eliminating them so they can demonstrate their love and support (and justify campaign contributions) before they vote for a package that does just that.
In case it's not immediately obvious…that's the exact opposite of a fast-track process.
On top of everything else, there's no penalty for missing any of the deadlines in H.R. 6169.
In other words, all the House did was something that made it feel better but accomplished nothing.