Washington (CNN) – While Congressional Democrats and Republicans threw dirt bombs at one another over health care on Tuesday, two Senate veterans engaged in actual bipartisanship a few blocks away on an issue far from the headlines: Tax reform.
Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire, spoke before a small audience at the Heritage Foundation on a bill they introduced last month to dramatically overhaul federal tax law.
In terms of its scope, Wyden-Gregg is big. For individuals, the bill would halve the number of individual tax rates to three. It would end the Alternative Minimum Tax, which lawmakers have been "temporarily" fixing for years so it doesn't smack middle-income families.
It would consolidate the three different kinds of individual retirement accounts. The Bipartisan Tax Fairness and Simplification Act would also clean up the corporate tax system. It would get rid of the current rate structure and replace it with one flat corporate rate of 24 percent, and eliminate a lot of big corporate tax breaks.
Many tax experts, who say reform is overdue, have welcomed the bill. The current tax code, they say, is marred by thousands of nooks and crannies and ill-equipped to raise the revenue the government will need to close future deficits.
Wyden and Gregg said they tried to write a politically viable bill. For instance, their legislation would leave intact the mortgage interest deduction for homeowners. Any move to dial back the popular deduction would unleash the fury of the real estate lobby.
But the way forward for their bill is uncertain. It would still do away with numerous deductions and credits and will serve as a juicy red target for groups seeking to hang on to provisions that benefit them.
"You will have thousands of interest groups weighing in," Wyden said.
Then there's the small matter of this year's midterm elections, which would make the passage of any such sweeping legislation a slog. Gregg, who is not running for re-election, was asked what he thought about the bill's outlook.
"Passage in late July," he said drolly to giggles in the audience.