Senators bring back online sales tax bill

A bipartisan group of senators is taking another crack at online sales tax legislation.

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Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinDems introduce bill to create climate change bond program Top Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms Top Dem: Shutdown over border wall would be 'height of irresponsibility' MORE (D-Ill.) and Sens. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderGroups warn of rural health 'crisis' under ObamaCare repeal Trump’s Army pick faces tough confirmation fight Trump faces risky ObamaCare choice MORE (R-Tenn.), Mike EnziMike EnziTrump should work with Congress to block regulations on prepaid cards GOP wrestles with big question: What now? Top Dem: Trump's State Dept. cuts a 'Ponzi scheme' MORE (R-Wyo.) and Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampBusiness groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee Sanders supporter to run against red-state Democrat GOP lays out regulatory reform wish list MORE (D-N.D.) rolled out the Marketplace Fairness Act on Tuesday, which would give states more power to collect sales taxes from businesses that don't have a physical location within their borders.

"The Marketplace Fairness Act is about supporting the jobs we have in our towns. It is about the people who are our neighbors who work in our local stores," Enzi said in a statement.

"It’s time to give states the right to enforce their own laws without having to get permission from Washington.”

The Senate passed a substantially similar version of the Marketplace Fairness Act in May 2013, by a wide bipartisan margin. But top Republicans in the House opposed the measure, and Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbyists bounce back under Trump Business groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee Chaffetz won't run for reelection MORE (R-Ohio) made sure it never came up for a vote – much to the chagrin of the retail groups that support the proposal.

Supporters both on and off Capitol Hill say the measure would correct an unfair advantage that online retailers have over brick-and-mortar shops. States are currently barred from collecting sales taxes from out-of-state retailers due to a 1992 Supreme Court decision, though Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested last week that the court should revisit that opinion.

But opponents, including prominent conservative groups and lawmakers, have struck a populist tone, casting the bill as essentially a giveaway to K Street, big box stores and Amazon.

"It’s a changed Congress and a new year, but this Marketplace Fairness Act is the same old, tired idea that stalled in the last Congress," said Steve Delbianco of NetChoice, one of those opponents.

Backers of the measure face a more difficult path to even getting the bill passed in the Senate, now that Republicans have taken control of the chamber. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSchumer: Funding deal possible if Trump drops border wall Disconnect: Trump, GOP not on same page GOP senator: There will never be full U.S.-Mexico border wall MORE (R-Ky.) is no fan of the legislation, while his predecessor, Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidWeek ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road 'Tuesday Group' turncoats must use recess to regroup on ObamaCare MORE (D-Nev.), was one of the measure's biggest champions.

But supporters could try once more to pair the online sales tax measure with an extension of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, a relatively noncontroversial measure barring taxes on online access that is set to expire at the end of September. Senate sponsors of the Marketplace Fairness Act tried a similar tactic last year, but were still unable to get the measure to President Obama's desk. 

House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteH.R. 1695: A vital first step towards Copyright Office modernization GOP lays out regulatory reform wish list As former Copyright Office leaders, we support an autonomous register of copyrights MORE (R-Va.) has been working on his own proposal, which would levy taxes based on where the retailer – not the customer – is based. But retail groups have already panned that proposal.