By Bernie Becker - 07/26/13 11:13 PM EDT
A pair of top senators closed a month-long outreach effort for tax code suggestions Friday, after facing deep skepticism from colleagues and making an unprecedented offer to protect confidentiality.
More than a half dozen senators, including members of both parties, released written suggestions to Finance Chairman Max BaucusMax BaucusChina moves to lift ban on US beef Overnight Healthcare: Zika fight stalls government funding talks | Census finds big drop in uninsured | Mental health bill faces wait Glover Park Group now lobbying for Lyft MORE (D-Mont.) and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchInternet companies dominate tech lobbying Senate panel approves pension rescue for coal miners Overnight Tech: GOP says internet fight isn't over | EU chief defends Apple tax ruling | Feds roll out self-driving car guidelines | Netflix's China worries MORE (R-Utah) on Friday, joining a handful of lawmakers who publicized their suggestions earlier in the week.
But the suggestions senators released Friday were often general and painted with a broad brush – not the “legislative language or detailed proposals” about which tax breaks should remain in a blank code that Baucus and Hatch had asked from their 98 other colleagues.
Since their June letter, Baucus and Hatch have also seen more than a couple senators keep their process at arm’s length – not least, Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidBlack Caucus demands Flint funding from GOP Report: Intelligence officials probing Trump adviser's ties to Russia White House preps agencies for possible shutdown MORE (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump slams Obama for ‘shameful’ 9/11 bill veto GOP chairman lobbies against overriding Obama on 9/11 bill Black Caucus demands Flint funding from GOP MORE (R-Ky.).
Reid told reporters Thursday that he wouldn’t take part in the “blank slate” process – that he had, in fact, never actually read Baucus and Hatch’s letter. The Nevada Democrat added that the $975 billion in new revenues included in the Senate budget should be a starting point for Baucus.
Other senators have also expressed concern about the revenue divide, to the point of questioning whether the blank slate process made sense while that issue is unsettled. In some cases, senators were also worried about their confidential submissions leaking out – to the point that Baucus and Hatch have promised they’ll remain locked away until at least the end of 2064.
The senators who released blank slate submissions on Friday include:
Sen. Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerLobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner Overnight Tech: Senate panel to vote on Dem FCC commissioner MORE (D-W.Va.) – The second-ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, Rockefeller noted to Baucus and Hatch that he’d already met with them personally more than a couple times since 2011.
To that end, Rockefeller noted that his key priority is rolling back income inequality. The West Virginia Democrat – who has openly said the blank slate gave too much power to Baucus and Hatch – also called for strengthening refundable tax credits, and called the $975 billion figure a “worthy goal.”
Sen. Mike CrapoMike CrapoSenate panel approves pension rescue for coal miners Bank lobbyists counting down to Shelby’s exit GOP warming up to Cuba travel MORE (R-Idaho) – A member of the Bowles-Simpson commission, Crapo told Baucus and Hatch that tax reform should build on that framework – no more than three tax brackets, lower rates on capital gains and shielding offshore corporate income for taxation.
But Crapo, another Finance member, did not offer suggestions on which tax breaks should be chopped, and said that the best possible outcome would be a flat tax. Either way, the Idaho Republican added, tax reform should be revenue-neutral.
Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinTop Dem: 'Risk factor' to extending Iran sanctions in lame duck Senate rejects push to block Saudi arms sale Pentagon: No US aircraft flying during Syrian convoy attack MORE (D-Md.) – Cardin, also a Finance member, did not publicly release a letter, but did outline several priorities in a Friday statement. Among them: Increasing or keeping the current progressivity in the code; incentives for clean energy; protecting tax breaks for retirement; and even a possible progressive consumption tax.
Sen. Mike EnziMike EnziOvernight Energy: Obama integrates climate change into national security planning Senate panel approves pension rescue for coal miners GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (R-Wyo.) – In his letter, Enzi notes that he’s the only accountant on the Finance Committee. The Wyoming Republican also suggested that Baucus and Hatch take a look at two of his previous pieces of legislation, one that updates tax filing deadlines and another that reforms the global tax rules for corporations.
Sen. Bill NelsonBill NelsonGOP puts shutdown squeeze play on Dems Overnight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis Dem to support spending bill despite no Flint aid MORE (D-Fla.) – Yet another Finance member, Nelson told Baucus and Hatch that each tax break should expire in 10 years or less – unless lawmakers specifically vote to reup them. Such a setup, Nelson said, could keep new preferences benefitting special interests from sneaking into the tax code.
The Florida Democrat also takes aim at tax breaks for oil and pharmeceutical companies, and incentives for offshoring. But Nelson also stressed that not all tax breaks – the ones that benefit average taxpayers over special interests – are bad.
Sen. Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyDem presses Congress to pass veteran suicide measure Senate Democrats block defense funding bill for third time Are Senate Republicans facing an election wipeout? MORE (D-Ind.) – Donnelly keeps it general in his three paragraph letter to Baucus and Hatch, calling for protecting the middle class and encouraging business investment. The Indiana Democrat does say that any tax reform should raise revenue.
Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSunday shows preview: Both sides gear up for debate UK's Corbyn calls for unity after reelection as Labour Party head Green group endorses in key Senate races MORE (I-Vt.) – Sanders, among the more liberal members of the Senate, pointedly declined Baucus and Hatch’s offer to protect confidentiality. “Given the fact that my suggestions represent the interests of the middle class of this country and not powerful corporate special interests, I have no problem with making them public,” Sanders said.
The Vermont senator also calls for a Wall Street speculation tax, anti-offshoring measures, a carbon tax and higher capital gains and dividends rates for the wealthiest.
Sen. Chris MurphyChris MurphySaudi skeptics gain strength in Congress Dems to McConnell: Bring up Trump tax bill Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE (D-Conn.) – Murphy’s letter broadly calls for protecting the middle class and raising revenue. The Connecticut Democrat notes that a family making $200,000 a year can be considered middle class in his state. But sitting next door to Wall Street, he also suggests that policymakers consider whether capital gains should be taxed as ordinary income.
Infrastructure and retirement savings, on the other hand, should be incentivized in the tax code, Murphy says.
Other senators, like Tammy BaldwinTammy BaldwinOvernight Defense: US attempted hostage rescue in Afghanistan | Defense hawks brace for spending fight | Trump slams 'lies' about Iraq war stance Senators want military separation policy to address trauma-related behavior Community development can help close the opportunity divide MORE (D-Wis.) and Angus KingAngus KingWells CEO Stumpf resigns from Fed advisory panel Pentagon chief: 9/11 bill could be used against US troops GOP chairman: White House ‘running rogue’ on water rule MORE (I-Maine), have told The Hill they were also make their submissions public. Sens. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeTop GOP chairmen investigating foreign visa program Pence rallies GOP before final stretch Libertarian nominee top choice among veterans MORE (R-Ariz.) and Marco RubioMarco RubioSenate rivals gear up for debates Rubio: End of Obama's term could be 'most damaging yet' Fifteen years since pivotal executive order, STORM Act could help fight terror finance MORE (R-Fla.) released their letters earlier this week.
Rubio’s letter chides senators who want to use tax reform to either raise taxes or redistribute income, and calls for any bill to be marked up in committee and go through an open amendment process on the Senate floor.
A spokesman for Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerSenators seek to boost women in international forces Overnight Energy: Senate approves Flint aid | Union chief backs Dakota pipeline White House proxy fight breaks out on Senate floor MORE (D-Calif.) told The Hill that Boxer’s letter called for protecting a range of popular – and expensive – tax breaks: The deductions for mortgage interest, charitable contributions and state and local taxes, as well as the credit for research and development. Boxer also seeks to protect entitlement programs, incentivize renewable energy and education, and fund highway programs.
Katie Tank and Meredith Bentsen contributed.