Congress's top two tax policy writers left Washington behind on Monday to to get some ideas from a couple of Minnesota-based companies about how the nation's tax system should be revamped.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Michigan, made stops at 3M and at a St. Paul bakery that makes buns for McDonald's.
Baucus and Camp have been trying to come up with the next big tax reform bill for three years, working across party lines and bridging the House-Senate divide. Camp, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, are now traveling the nation on a "Tax Reform Tour."
"We decided just to get out of Washington and just meet with people around the country and you're number one," Baucus said of the 3M visit. "There is a bit of bubble in Washington, it's true. And we're just doing best to kind of break it in some respect."
In Maplewood, 3M welcomed the two lawmakers at its "Innovation Center," with a high-tech, multimedia presentation highlighting its mission and some of its products.
In addition to hearing about 3M's global scope, Baucus and Camp heard early on in a question and answer session with employees how high U.S. corporate taxes are hurting American companies trying to compete globally. Camp and Baucus both agreed something needs to be done to make sure U.S. companies can compete.
Camp said the tax code desperately needs modernizing.
"We're out of step," Camp said. "We are the highest statutory rate in the world and we are the only country in the world left with our particular type of international tax system. ... We have to understand that the environment has changed."
Baucus said it's not just a concern for 3M.
"We hear it constantly: U.S. companies with their higher statutory rates are just having a harder time with international competition," Baucus said.
The Republican congressman and Democratic senator told 3M that they were confident that they will be able to break through congressional gridlock to pass the first major tax reform bill since the mid-1980s.
"If we make our own future and keep moving and keep talking to people, keep encouraging that trust and listening to the other senators' point of view, not telling them what to do but listening," Baucus said, "we'll find a way to get there."
Baucus said he's sought to meet with every senator to get tax reform ideas. Camp expressed similar sentiment about his efforts to bring everyone into the process.
And Camp predicted the bottom-up approach would bolster their chances of actually getting something passed despite competing tax policy ideas.
"There will be partisan differences but ultimately there will be a bipartisan bill," Camp said. "It's going to have to be a bipartisan product if we want to move the country forward."
From 3M, Baucus and Camp made their way to a much smaller Twin Cities business. Among other things, Baldinger Bakery in east St. Paul makes McDonald's hamburger buns by the tens of thousands. About 100 people work there.
At the bakery, Baucus and Camp also heard calls for lower taxes. They asked Steve Baldinger, who runs the business his great-grandfather started more than 120 years ago, what he would most like done with the tax code.
"The easiest answer is the simplest answer and that's simplify it. Make it less complicated," Baldinger said.
The focus of the Minnesota visit was large and small businesses. For the next stop on the "Tax Reform Tour," Baucus and Camp plan to focus on tax concerns as they relate to education. They say they plan to visit several cities over the next few months in hopes of getting more outside-the-beltway suggestions on tax reform legislation.