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Jon M. Huntsman Jr. and Evan Bayh: An idea both parties can swallow

Former Utah Gov. Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. is co-chair of No Labels, a national organization promoting bipartisan problem solving in our nation’s capital.
Former Utah Gov. Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. is co-chair of No Labels, a national organization promoting bipartisan problem solving in our nation’s capital. AP File Photo

One of the myriad of reasons for business not getting done in Washington, D.C., has been the unfortunate habit of lawmakers adding “poison pills” or “killer amendments” to legislation in order to justify their own vote against it, or to make the opposing party look bad by voting against or vetoing a bill that sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea.

History is full of these toxic combinations — the legislative equivalent of pouring vinegar on birthday cake; it ruins the party for everyone and is done for the sole purpose of scoring political points or saving political face. How sad.

But every now and then, a legislator comes up with an idea to add something good to another something good – increasing the overall desirability of the bill. It’s the legislative equivalent of adding chocolate to peanut butter.

The practice is brilliant in its simplicity, refreshing in its optimism. It’s also a terrific way to solve problems, and that’s something we need a lot more of in Washington, D.C.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield is the latest congressman to come up with a peanut-butter-cup-type of idea. He suggested recently Congress consider solving two problems together: highway funding and tax reform.

McCarthy pointed out the resources needed for long-term infrastructure funding might be found through corporate tax reform that includes repatriation — a tax solution where U.S. companies operating overseas bring their profits home to be taxed at a lower rate.

The concept of using repatriation revenue to fund long-term infrastructure spending has been proposed by lawmakers and academics in the past, but it hasn’t yet been tried. McCarthy might be the leader who brings this common-sense concept to actual, viable legislation.

McCarthy put his reasoning simply: “These are two problems, but there are also two solutions.”

What makes McCarthy’s suggestion even more appealing is the fact there is significant, bipartisan political will to undertake corporate tax reform, and to fill the nation’s highway potholes. McCarthy knows this. He likely sees the power of making each solution even more appealing through the act of combining it with the other.

Legislators who might not be in as much of a hurry to tackle corporate tax reform might be brought into the conversation because of their keen interest in infrastructure solutions … while others who might not be as passionate about infrastructure will support the bill because of their dedication to fixing the corporate tax system.

This is how the road — pun intended — to problem solving might be paved.

The most powerful element of any policy reform is its goal. A clear goal all parties can agree on ought to be the starting point of more policy debates in Washington. McCarthy’s idea, indeed, gains strength from the power of goals. After all, putting corporate tax reform and highway funding into one bill pairs two clear, widely agreed upon goals. It isn’t politically tricky to support repairs for the nation’s highway system or a new tax structure that is good for jobs, growth and tax revenue. Many will be able to proudly support both because the goals are clear and shared.

We hope the McCarthy recipe will become a bill — one that is palatable to leaders in both parties. If this idea comes to fruition, and actually becomes law, it may even take some of the bitter taste out of the mouths of the citizens who are tired of poison pills and political games.

Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah, is a co-chair of No Labels, a national movement dedicated to bipartisan problem solving. Evan Bayh, former U.S. senator from Indiana, is co-founder of No Labels. They wrote this exclusively for The Fresno Bee.

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