ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Welcome to the "Max and Dave Show," a campaign-style swing around the country featuring two of the most powerful members of Congress rallying support for their effort to overhaul the nation's tax laws -- and, just maybe, change the way Washington works.
Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, and Rep. Dave Camp, a Republican from Michigan, are Washington's newest power couple -- and an odd one during these politically deadlocked days in Washington. They are lawmakers from different states, different parties and they're a decade in age apart. Yet, Camp and Baucus are developing a close friendship as they try to rally other lawmakers to their cause.
Their secret: Burgers, beer and a culture of working toward public policy answers that Americans seem to want in Washington -- even when there's no solution in sight.
"Dave's my buddy," Baucus told a gathering of workers at 3M, the Minnesota-based maker of everything from Scotch tape to electronic touch screens. "My comrade."
These days, you don't often hear Democrats talk that way about Republicans, or see campaign-style events for a topic as dry as tax reform. But the pair have a common goal for an overhaul they believe is long overdue. And tax policy, to them, is exciting for all that is wrong and could be improved about it. So beginning last week in Minnesota, Baucus and Camp began barnstorming the country, employing a similar burgers-and-beer strategy that's worked for them with colleagues in Washington.
"You have to have some basis to deal with each other to work together," Camp said in an interview. "What we're trying to do is create that foundation so that we are going to be able to work together on a very important bill that could have profound beneficial effects for the country."
At issue is a tax system that many inside and outside of Congress say is too complicated for individuals and too onerous for businesses. The broad goal of tax reform is to simplify the code by eliminating or reducing tax breaks and using the additional revenue to lower tax rates for everyone.
Lawmakers in both political parties are convinced that simpler, easier-to-understand tax laws would spur economic activity. One problem is that many of the biggest tax breaks, including those for owning a home or contributing to retirement plans, are very popular.
And there are significant differences among Democrats and Republicans over how much tax revenue the government should raise and who should pay it. Democrats generally want reform to generate more revenue; most Republicans in Congress are opposed to raising taxes.
Camp and Baucus also are working in a toxic partisan environment in Washington that makes it difficult for Congress to pass routine legislation, let alone a monumental package like tax reform.
"I don't see how we get anywhere, candidly," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who is up for re-election in Kentucky next year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wasn't much more optimistic. "We're a long way from getting something on paper as to what we're going to go forward on," Reid said.
Still, Baucus and Camp are pressing forward.
Camp, 60, grew up in Midland, Mich., and was first elected to the House in 1990. A close ally of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Camp chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, which has authority over tax laws.
Its Senate counterpart is the Finance Committee, chaired by the 71-year-old Baucus. For him, it's legacy time. Baucus grew up on a ranch near Helena, Mont., was elected to the Senate in 1978 and has become an independent voice generally more conservative than many of his Democratic colleagues. He's announced plans to retire next year, and tax reform would be his swan song.