In Washington, political gridlock is a convenient scapegoat for myriad conditions. Nearly every unpleasant or distasteful impediment to supposed progress can be traced, it would seem, back to the evils of gridlock.
Can't get a budget passed? Blame gridlock.
Can't get appointments through confirmation? Oh, the gridlock.
Can't get an immigration bill passed? Yep, you guessed it, gridlock.
The superficial pundits argue that it is a matter of one party or the other being obstreperous and obstructionist. But the more sophisticated observers understand that while party intransigence can be a contributor to gridlock its true cause is rooted not so much in the parties themselves but in the constituencies they serve.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the debate over tax reform.
We have yet to hear a cogent argument against reforming the nation's abominable tax system. Even President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner agree on the need.
The federal tax system generates about $2.8 trillion a year, but it grants more than $1 trillion (that is with a "T") in exemptions, deductions and credits -- better known as tax breaks -- each year. Who could be against reforming such a breathtakingly inefficient tax system that leaks like a sieve?
The answer, of course, is the people who benefit from the exemptions, deductions and credits, which, quite frankly, is many of us. Such breaks cause distortion in an economy by picking winners and losers in our social behavior.
A prime example is the mortgage interest deduction, which encourages borrowers to buy houses. Ah, we got your attention with that one, didn't we? Well, it's a tax break.
Perhaps the crown jewel of ineffectiveness is that despite the U.S. having the highest (by far) corporate tax rates in the industrialized world, many corporations don't pay much of it. As Apple CEO Tim Cook so ably demonstrated in testimony before Congress recently, corporations often use the system to avoid paying much tax.
But the most disturbing aspect of the tax system is its complexity. That, of course, is a full-employment guarantee for accountants and tax lawyers, but it is a nightmare for the rest of us. The good news is that there is a small window opening when something might get done.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., who head the tax-writing committees in their chambers, are working together to pass tax reform by the end of 2014. Despite heat from within their parties and, especially, from the constituencies that stand to lose under tax reform, both men are trying to fashion a legitimate tax reform compromise that can benefit the country as a whole.
It is an effort we not only support, but encourage. We urge others to do the same because it will only happen, if the people demand it.