The House Ways and Means Committee (David Camp R-MI, chair) yesterday released draft legislation (“the Tax Reform Act of 2014”) for discussion.
Notable provisions of the Camp proposal include a substantial flattening of the income tax rate structure, simplification of individual deductions, and treating investment income (capital gains) as ordinary income (albeit with a 40% exemption).
The debate over the progressiveness of the income tax structure, over-complicated forms and obtuse statutes, and how (or whether) individuals’ savings and investments should be subject to income tax goes back to the earliest days of the Internal Revenue Code.
The Library’s Ward M. Hussey tax legislative history collection provides extensive (and unique) documentation of this century-long policy and legislative debate. Ward M. Hussey served in the Office of the Legislative Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1946 through 1989. He assisted in the drafting of numerous tax laws including the Internal Revenue Codes of 1954 and 1986. In 2002, he donated his collection of historic tax legislative materials (over 200 volumes, including the legislative drafts and reports for all the revenue acts from 1918 until 1980) to the Georgetown Law Library.
Relevant to the Camp proposal in the Hussey collection is a set of pamphlets from 1920 advocating tax reform written by a diverse set of authors, including T.S. Adams, a Yale economics professor; Otto H. Kahn, an investment banker and philanthropist; and the National Industrial Conference Board. Otto Kahn’s broadside could have been written today as part of the Camp proposal:
Our existing taxation measures … are cumbersome, vexatious, and almost incredibly complex. * * * They discourage, disturb, and impede business, and place the American business man at a disadvantage as against his European competitor. At a time when America is aiming to become a world center they deter foreign capital from coming here. They throw upon the government an administrative task of such vastness and intricacy that the departments concerned simply cannot cope with it.
Otto H. Kahn, “Our Taxation Ills with Suggestions for Their Curing” in Revenue Act of 1921: Miscellaneous Pamphlets, at p.2 (1921).
The more things change, the more they stay the same!