If they are not careful, President Barack Obama and the man who wants to take away his job are in danger of coming to a consensus on the right direction for America’s tax policy.

This week, which began with “tax day,” the president has been touting what sounds like a simple idea that he calls the Buffett Rule. It dictates that very rich people (such as Obama-backing billionaire Warren Buffett) should pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than the people who work for them.

Then, at a closed-to-the-media fundraiser, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney said that as part of a comprehensive tax reform plan, he would consider taking away the tax deduction for people who buy second homes. We don’t know what the other details of the plan might be, because reporters could not overhear them and the donors weren’t talking.

There are problems with both ideas. The Buffett Rule would not fix the main problem with the tax code, which is the complexity that gives those with the greatest ability to pay the greatest opportunity to get out of paying. Romney’s proposal would not affect the very rich, who can buy their vacation homes with cash — but it could hurt some of the far-from-rich who would suffer from a cooled-down real estate market.

Both candidates’ positions, however, appear to be based on some common assumptions: that the government is operating with unsustainable deficits, that the nation is suffering from historic income disparity, and that people at the high end are benefiting while the rest of the economy struggles.

Both proposals envision using the tax code as a way to collect more revenue while restoring fairness to the system.

The fact that neither idea even comes close to doing what needs to be done should not mean the conversation is over. Both could be part of a tax reform package that lowers rates, eliminates loopholes and simplifies the tax code while making sure that all taxpayers pay their fair share.

That kind of plan won’t be unveiled at a news conference or overheard at a fundraiser. It would take the kind of bipartisan back and forth that does not lend itself to the sound bites and attack ads that dominate the campaign season.

But if they are not careful, Obama and Romney might find that they — and the country — agree on what really needs to be done.


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