Senate tax reformers fear being hijacked

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The Senate’s top tax writer has postponed a meeting to discuss tax reform discussion drafts, dealing yet another setback to bipartisan efforts on the issue this year.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) moved a get-together scheduled for Thursday back until at least Tuesday, after Republicans on his panel expressed concern that Democrats could use the discussion drafts as a revenue menu for budget negotiations.

“Sen. Baucus wants to take some additional time to talk to members and hear the concerns expressed by some before deciding on a path forward,” Sean Neary, a Baucus spokesman, told The Hill in a statement.

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Both Baucus and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) are trying to make progress on tax reform before 2014, when electoral politics will make it more difficult to finish off a broad package. Baucus has expressed an interest in releasing several discussion drafts in the coming weeks, on areas like international tax laws.

Camp on Wednesday acknowledged he might not follow through on his vow to mark up a tax reform bill in 2013. The Ways and Means chairman is scheduled to discuss the issue on Thursday afternoon with House GOP leadership, who are said to have some of the same concerns as Senate Republicans.

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has insisted that the current budget conference, which has until Dec. 13 to strike a deal, should find some revenues to replace at least some automatic sequestration cuts.

But Republicans have said that’s a no-go, and GOP senators have expressed concern that a Finance discussion draft could only embolden Murray and other Democratic negotiators.

“There’s a bipartisan desire to fix America’s broken tax code, but there’s also a partisan desire by some to raise taxes under the guise of so-called tax reform in the budget conference negotiations that are currently taking place,” said Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), the top Republican on the Finance panel.

“In the spirit of trying to ensure tax reform does not get bogged down in this partisan morass and after discussions with his Republican colleagues on the Finance Committee, Sen. Hatch communicated to Chairman Baucus that he believes the most prudent path would be to hold off on releasing these discussion drafts until after the budget conference concludes. He appreciates the Chairman considering this by delaying today’s member meeting.”

Republicans have also sounded a bit wary of pressing ahead on tax reform while the White House and Democrats struggle with the error-ridden rollout of President Obama’s healthcare law, an issue which helped them regain their political footing after October’s government shutdown.

Still, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday brushed aside suggestions that leadership would urge Camp to hold off on tax reform, saying the meeting was one of their periodic chats with the chairman on the subject.

"We believe that tax reform would be good for our economy, would help produce more jobs, and, frankly, higher wages," Boehner told reporters. "So this is an informational meeting, to kinda see where they are. And I don’t know what the outcome of the meeting is going to be, but that’s not the purpose of the meeting."

— This story was updated at 12:04 p.m.