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Can Republicans Find Common Ground With Obama's Budget?


These have been politically toxic times in Washington. And when President Obama released a new budget yesterday, Republicans voiced some loud complaints. House Speaker John Boehner called it a plan for more taxes, more spending and more of the Washington gridlock that has failed middle-class families. And yet there is quieter chatter from both sides about some possible common ground and willingness to negotiate. Let's hear from someone who's been at the center of negotiations over taxes and spending. He was one of the most powerful numbers of Congress until he retired this year as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. It's Republican David Camp of Michigan. He's on the line. Congressman, good morning.

DAVID CAMP: Well, good morning, David. How are you?

GREENE: I'm well, thank you. So you've had a little bit of time now to be outside the, you know, thick of the fight, which might give you a bit of a different perspective. What do you see when you look at President Obama's budget that came out this week.

CAMP: Yeah, well, it's all been - all of four weeks. But look, he's actually putting something on the table that he hasn't. We clearly need to make our tax codes simpler and fairer. And, of course, Republicans would like to do that for everyone. And what we'll have to see is going forward, are there serious discussions that really move this whole issue ahead because no one's happy with the recovery that we've seen. I don't think anybody's satisfied with that. We're not even able to hire the kids that are coming out of school. A lot of people have left the work force. So while the unemployment rate looks like it's come down, it's really not counting a whole lot of people.

So what we'll see this week is the Cabinet really deployed on the Hill, giving testimony about the president's budget. And today, the secretary of the Treasury will be before the Ways and Means Committee in the House. It will be very important to see what kinds of signals they send in their testimony - and I think probably no one more important than the Treasury secretary because if tax reform's going to happen, he'll be at the center of it.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you about one element of tax reform as we think about possible compromises here. I mean, the president proposed this one-time 14 percent tax on earnings that U.S. companies are holding overseas, which sounds like a proposal that you made last year as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. I mean, what is the virtue of this idea?

CAMP: Well, it's important that he's expressing a willingness to make our American employers more competitive around the world. He's obviously looking at it differently than I did and we did last year. But what we really need to see is are they willing to find some areas of common interest? Look, many of our most profitable companies who employ thousands, tens of thousands of people have said they cannot compete. We have the highest corporate rate in the world. We are the only country in the world that has this double system of taxation. So there are - there's more than $2 trillion stranded overseas that isn't brought back and invested here in the United States to create jobs for middle-class families. So yes, he's actually expressing a willingness to talk about that area. He's going in a direction though that I think will need to see some change in order to get a kind of bipartisan compromise he'll need to get it through the Congress.

GREENE: What exactly is the sticking point? I mean, this sounds like an idea - taxing companies that have a lot of money overseas that, you know, you and the president sort of have the same opinion. What is the difference? What is the gap that needs to be overcome?

CAMP: The difference is he's not combining it with policies that will make our companies more competitive. He's leaving corporate rates the same. Those rates will have to come down. Look, Canada and Mexico have both revised their tax systems - our neighbors that we trade very heavily with. Most of Europe has lowered their business taxes. Well, we're going to have to look at that in connection. So it's about an entire package. It's about looking at what this does in context of a number of other policies. It's not possible to just sort of cherry-pick one or two. You've got to really look at this in detail. They need to come forward with a lot more. But like I said, it is positive that they are expressing a willingness by putting some of these issues in his budget. He's been talking about them. And some of the interviews that leaders on both sides have been giving have shown that they're interested in trying to find some common ground here.

GREENE: Step back for me if you can - I mean, that there does seem to be this idea of common ground. We have now Congress, you know, under Republican control - both the House and Senate. We have a Democratic president with two years left. I mean, do you see kind of this toxic atmosphere calming down a little bit? Is there hope for that?

CAMP: Many of us see this - the election - as an economy and jobs election. And I think there's a lot of pressure on both parties to try to find a way to make things better for the American people. As I said, no one's satisfied with this recovery. And polls show that Americans think that their kids aren't going to have it as good as they did. And that really goes to the heart of the American dream. So we really do need to see some progress if possible here. We have a window before we really get into the presidential election that - there's an opportunity here. And I'm optimistic. You know, they've only been in for a few weeks. Let's see what happens as sort of this develops. We'll learn a lot from the testimony that the administration gives over the next couple of weeks in front of the House and Senate on the president's budget and see if there's any signals there that indicate they're willing to find some areas of common interest.

GREENE: All right. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

CAMP: Thanks a lot, David. Take care.

GREENE: Dave Camp, you too. Dave Camp represented Michigan's 4th district until this year, and he was chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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