'Top Line' -- Bipartisan Rumblings? Senators Press for Tax Code Overhaul

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Glimmers out of last night's jobs vote notwithstanding , this is hardly a golden era for bipartisan efforts, much less ones as broadly focused as a tax overhaul.

Against that backdrop, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have teamed up to propose a major rewrite of the nation’s tax laws . In a small piece of bipartisanship, they appeared together today on ABC’s “Top Line.”

Their proposal would reduce from six to three the number of tax brackets; impose a standard flat corporate tax; vastly limit the number of available exemptions, deductions, and tax credits; make it far easier for most individuals and businesses to file their taxes; and provide a tax cut for most families making less than $200,000 a year, the senators say.

All of which is to say there’s enough for just about everyone to dislike -- but that may help get some momentum behind their effort.

On “Top Line,” we asked why they think they can make progress on this front, when so many other bipartisan efforts have fallen short.

“I hate to use this word, but I call it common sense,” Gregg told us. “If you’re here in Washington, I think you’ve got to be sensitive to the fact that this economy is struggling and that our purpose should try and be to try and create jobs. How do you do that? Well you give people incentive to go out and invest and create jobs. The way you do that is use your tax laws aggressively.” Wyden said he’s consulted with the White House about his proposal. While President Obama isn’t endorsing the effort, he said he’s hopeful the president gets on board.

“One of the reasons we believe there’s an opportunity for bipartisanship is there’s some real history with some of the folks in the Obama administration on this kind of approach modeled after a 1986 [tax reform law], where you clean out a lot of these tax breaks and use it to hold down rates and keep progressivity,” Wyden said.

“When I introduced and earlier version of this bill, [now-White House chief of staff] Rahm Emanuel was a sponsor -- he was the lead sponsor in the House of Representatives. So this is an area where I think we can have real bipartisanship,” Wyden added.

But Congress is now enmeshed in protracted a health care debate. The White House and Democratic leadership are signaling that they’re prepared to use a special budget procedure that would allow a simple majority of senators -- rather than the now-customary 60 -- to pass final legislation.

Republicans -- including Gregg -- say that would send a terrible message about Democrats’ commitment to working with Republicans, though they did use a similar mechanism to pass President Bush’s first-term tax cuts.

“This is an entirely different policy issue than the tax cuts,” Gregg said. “What you’re talking about with the health care bill is a rewriting of our -- of the way our health care system is delivered in this country. It’s the most massive piece of legislation I’ve ever seen and it clearly shouldn’t go through the Senate under reconciliation.”

Gregg added: “That’s railroading the Senate -- it’s taking the Senate off its fundamental purpose, which is to take complex public policy issues like forming health care laws, bring it to the floor, have it debated and have a lot of good amendments offered.”

Wyden declined to say whether he’d support the use of the “reconciliation” budget procedure to pass health care.

“Everything that I have tried to do on the health care issue and taxes and economics is to promote a bipartisan approach,” Wyden said. “Let’s advance good ideas. When the American people see good ideas, whether it’s Thursday at the summit or another occasion, then they’re going to be able to hold all of us accountable. Now, I’m not going to say what the procedure for health reform ought to be. What I’m going to say is Sen. Gregg and I, in both the tax area and the health area, have good ideas [that] give both sides a chance to score policy points rather than political points --that’s what the country wants to see right now.”

Watch the whole conversation HERE .

We also chatted about the latest in the health care debate with Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the SEIU.

Watch that portion of “Top Line” HERE .

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