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Tax-writing committee chairmen launch tax reform website

During my early years in Washington, D.C., when folks got worked up about an issue, they wrote their members of Congress. Honest to God pen to paper, postage stamp letters. Yeah, I know. Quaint meets geezer alert.

But back then, it was what we had. We got bags and bags of mail on hot-button issues.

And it worked. Just as well as it did at Kris Kringle's trial in "Miracle on 34th Street."


'Write Rosty' a tax reform winner: One of the most successful correspondence campaigns was in support of what became the historic Tax Reform Act of 1986.

Back then, Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, a Democrat, had decided to back Republican President Ronald Reagan's proposal to dramatically remake the Internal Revenue Code.

On May 28, 1985, the telegenic Republican Commander in Chief made his pitch for the legislation in a nationally televised speech. Rostenkowski's remarks for the loyal opposition followed.

Many worried that the gruff Chicago pol wasn't the right person for the Democratic message. They were wrong. According to the book "Showdown at Gucci Gulch:"

In a single eleven-minute four-second performance, Rostenkowski, the consummate inside player of the dark, back corridors of the U.S. Congress, transformed himself into a kind of folk hero of federal taxation. His speech stirred something deep inside a skeptical public, and put the Democrats -- and Rostenkowski -- back on the tax-reform map.

How? As he was wrapping up his speech, Rostenkowski asked the public to send letters of support for tax reform

"Even if you can't spell Rostenkowski, put down what they used to call my father and grandfather -- Rosty. Just address it to R-O-S-T-Y Washington, D.C. The post office will get it to me," he said.

The post office did, delivering around 75,000 pieces of mail to the Ways and Means chairman's office. One person sent a wooden two-by-four to help the chairman beat back special interests. "Write Rosty" buttons and bumper stickers quickly appeared and were plasterd on vehicles and proudly worn by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Tax reform in the Internet age: I appreciate your indulging my journey down memory lane. But it's got another purpose beyond reminding me of a time when there was a real bipartisan spirit on Capitol Hill.

Now the chairmen of the House and Senate tax-writing committees are trying to recreate that public support for meaningful tax reform via an electronic version of Write Rosty.

Ways and Means Chairman David Camp (R-Mich.) and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) have launched a new website, TaxReform.gov, that's designed to obtain public input on the latest efforts to rewrite the U.S. tax code.

They've also created a Twitter account, @simplertaxes.

As in 1985, Camp and Baucus are trying to personalize tax reform.

"The public has a huge role to play, because they're the ones who have to suffer under this nightmare of a tax code, and its complexity," Camp said in a joint interview with Baucus on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

Both chairmen have made tax reform a top priority for this Congress. It's their last chance, at least in their current positions.

Baucus is not seeking reelection in 2014. Ways and Means chairmanship term limits mean Camp won't be in charge of the panel in the next Congress.

Camp and Baucus are hoping that their outreach, dubbed Click Camp by a witty Reuters headline writer, will do for the tax code -- and their legislative legacies -- what Write Rosty helped accomplish almost 30 years ago.

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