Photo: IRS Form 1040

By Lori Montgomery
April 27, 2013

With another fight over the national debt brewing this summer, congressional Republicans are de-emphasizing their demand for politically painful cuts to retirement programs and focusing on a more popular prize: a thorough rewrite of the U.S. tax code.

Reining in spending on Social Security and Medicare remains an important policy goal for the GOP. But House leaders launched a series of meetings last week aimed at convincing rank-and-file lawmakers that tax reform is both wise policy and good politics and should be their top priority heading into talks with Democrats over the need to raise the federal debt limit.

The move comes weeks after President Obama responded to Republican demands to cut expensive federal retirement benefits by offering to shrink Social Security cost-of-living adjustments and raise Medicare premiums. The proposals, included in the president’s budget request, outraged seniors, and some Republicans fear that embracing them would be political suicide.

There is no such ambivalence, however, about simplifying the tax code and lowering the top rate, which jumped from 35 percent to 39.6 percent as part of a year-end budget deal that still rankles Republicans.

“The conference will unite around tax reform,” said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who hosted the first “listening session” on the issue Thursday in his first-floor Capitol office. “The window is now.”

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