Senate tax writers to unveil blank sheet plan for reforming the code

The two top tax writers in the Senate are ready to put the blank sheet theory of tax reform to the test, according to multiple sources on K Street.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the panel’s ranking member, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) are expected to release a framework on Thursday that would essentially scrub the tax code of incentives. Lawmakers would be challenged to then make their case to put certain tax breaks back in the code.

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Baucus declined to discuss details of his plan on Wednesday, and representatives for both the chairman and Hatch also had no comment.

But K Street sources say the plan could give senators until the end of July to press for favored incentives and preferences, with a potential markup after the August recess.

Baucus and the House’s top tax writer, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), have both made a comprehensive rewrite of the tax code their top priority, with neither scheduled to hold the committee gavel come 2015.

The two chairmen have been meeting with members from both parties and chambers to lay the groundwork for reform, and announced this month that they would travel around the country to take the case for a code overhaul directly to voters.

Camp and Baucus have also hinted that they would employ a “blank sheet” approach that would put lawmakers and K Street in the uncomfortable position of lobbying to get their favored provisions back in the code.

Camp has already unveiled three working drafts dealing with various parts of the code, and Ways and Means finished off 11 separate working groups earlier this year.

The Finance Committee wrapped up a series of closed-door meetings on tax reform last week, after which Baucus had said he would soon roll out more “concrete” plans.

As they move forward, Republicans and Democrats will also have to negotiate over knotty issues like whether a rewritten tax code raises more revenue and how progressive it should be.