Finance chairman tells senators to 'be ready' for tax reform this fall

The Senate Finance Committee will mark up comprehensive tax reform legislation this fall, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) announced Tuesday.
 
Baucus, the panel’s chairman, declined to give a month or date for action on legislation but made clear that he intends to get down to business on a sweeping rewrite of the tax code after the August recess.
 
“We will mark up a tax bill this fall,” Baucus said on the Senate floor. “So I urge senators to be ready.”
 

ADVERTISEMENT
Tax reform is fast becoming an obsession for Washington’s influence industry, with lobbyists and trade groups mobilizing for a high-stakes battle over what credits and deductions are kept in the code.
 
The move to draft and debate legislation on the Finance Committee — a daunting task that could take weeks of work — is just the latest sign that Baucus is serious about passing the first overhaul of the tax system since 1986.
 
Baucus and Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), the Finance panel’s top Republican, are already laying the groundwork for legislation by seeking input from the rest of the Senate on what tax breaks should be inscribed on their “blank slate” tax code. The deadline for those pitches is Friday.
 
The Finance chairman told reporters on Tuesday that he wanted to review the submissions and talk to committee members about them, making it unlikely that an official tax reform proposal would be rolled out before the fall.
 
“We’ll see. It depends on the submissions, to a large extent,” Baucus said. “Get their sense of where we all are. I do believe that reform should be bipartisan, so I want to consult with the members of the committee.”
 
Baucus and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) are determined to muscle a tax reform bill through Congress, but success is far from a sure thing.
 
While the “blank slate” effort has spurred a frenzy of lobbying from K Street, Republicans and Democrats remain split over whether a rewritten tax code should raise more revenue.
 
Baucus has said that he wants tax reform to bring in more revenue, though he has not been as aggressive on that front as other Senate Democrats.
 
Top Republicans, meanwhile, have said they won’t go along with a revenue-raising reform, and senators from both sides of the aisle have wondered what the point of the Baucus-Hatch exercise is without some sort of agreement on revenue.
 
“If we could agree at the outset that the purpose of tax reform is not to grow the government but to have a more competitive country in the global economy, I'd be all for it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters on Tuesday.
 
“I don't see much evidence that our friends on the other side of the aisle or the president are interested in revenue-neutral tax reform, so that's a stumbling block.”
 
Baucus’s move to begin a markup this fall does give put him on roughly the same timeline as Camp, who has said his panel will clear a revenue-neutral tax measure this year.
 
Both chairmen face the added pressure of time, with neither scheduled to hold the committee gavel starting in 2015. Baucus announced this year that he would not seek another term in 2014, while Camp is term-limited at Ways and Means.
 
“We’re on the same track,” said Baucus, who added that it made sense for the two committees to mark up a bill around the same time. “Certainly not in different years.”
 
To further boost their efforts and build public support, Camp and Baucus started a barnstorming tour across the country this month, with a second stop planned next week for the Philadelphia area.
 
The two chairmen are also bringing fellow lawmakers in groups to Kelly’s Irish Times, a Capitol Hill watering hole where crucial work on the 1986 overhaul of the tax code took place. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) were among the attendees during Tuesday’s latest trip.
 
Baucus and Camp, by pushing for markups before the end of the year, are also potentially pushing tax reform into roughly the same time frame as the debt limit, which Treasury officials project will have to be raised sometime in the fall.
 
President Obama and top congressional Democrats have said they won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling, while Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stressed Tuesday that a hike couldn’t occur without serious spending cuts.

The key fiscal deadline could also provide pressure for the broad fiscal deal that many in both parties want, though the divide on revenue would be a barrier on that front as well.

“I think we’re going to explore it and see what we can do,” Hatch said Tuesday about the committee’s work on tax reform. “And hopefully get Democrats to have better sense about more taxes that they can spend.”

— This story was first posted at 1:04 p.m. and has been updated.