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A running start for NAM chief

A running start for NAM chief
© Camille Fine

Efforts from President Trump and congressional Republicans to reform the tax code have led to a busy first few weeks for Chris Netram at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

Netram, 42, started in late August as NAM’s vice president of tax and domestic economic policy, where he has been engaging the group’s roughly 14,000 members with Capitol Hill on tax-reform plans.

Fittingly, NAM’s deep interest in tax policy was one of the things that drew Netram to working for the group in the first place.

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“There’s a couple of groups in town that are active in tax policy, but none to the extent and the level of the NAM — from the CEO and the board chair on down,” he said recently in an interview at NAM’s offices in downtown Washington.

Earlier this month, Netram visited Capitol Hill with NAM’s board chairman, Emerson Electric CEO David Farr.

“He’s got a real day job, and he is so invested in tax reform that he came here to D.C. to storm the Hill with me and my boss, to talk about the need to pass the budget as a vehicle for tax reform,” Netram said. “And that kind of buy-in, that’s not something you see everywhere.”

NAM’s commitment to tax reform has also gotten the attention of lawmakers and administration officials. In late September, Trump spoke at the organization’s board meeting. Soon after, NAM’s president and workers from member groups visited the Oval Office for a ceremony in which Trump declared Oct. 6 this year’s National Manufacturing Day.

“You don’t get the president coming to a group that isn’t engaged in the fight,” Netram said.

NAM has five main priorities for tax reform: a corporate rate as close to 15 percent as possible, lower rates for income from small businesses and other “pass-through” entities, a “territorial” tax system that doesn’t touch U.S. companies’ foreign earnings, preservation and enhancement of the research and development tax credit and incentives for the purchase of capital equipment.

These priorities are consistent with provisions in the GOP’s tax framework, though current proposals call for a corporate rate of 20 percent, down from 39.

Netram expects that he and his peers will be “looking at every single line of text that comes out” when the tax legislation is released this week. However, he’s positive about the general outlines.

“In the broadest strokes, I think we’re starting from a very good place,” he said. 

The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to release the text of a tax bill on Wednesday — which will make Netram even busier.

“Every word matters in a tax bill, and so we’re going to be busy analyzing every single word of that bill and engaging with our members to see how a bill could affect their businesses to figure out where we are as an industry and what we need to do going forward,” he said. “So there will be a lot of work.”

Netram predicted that there’s a “very, very high chance” that a tax bill makes it to Trump’s desk, though it’s unclear what it will look like.

“There is tremendous pressure on members to deliver something significant, and tax reform is the kind of significant win that [they] need to deliver,” he said.

NAM has been meeting with both Republicans and Democrats about tax reform, and Trump has expressed optimism that the plan could get some Democratic votes.

But Democrats will be pressed from the left to deny Trump his first major legislative victory, and Netram said it’s unclear how much Democratic support a bill will ultimately receive.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you got some Democrats in the House,” he said. “I also wouldn’t be surprised if you got none in the House.”

A New York native, Netram has a background as a Capitol Hill staffer and a tax lawyer.

He came to the job from the office of Rep. Vern BuchananVernon Gale BuchananMORE (R-Fla.), where he served as deputy chief of staff and tax counsel. Prior to that, he worked in Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGraham: I hope Dems 'get their ass kicked' for conduct around Kavanaugh St. Lawrence alumni, faculty want honorary degree for Collins revoked 'Suspicious letter' mailed to Maine home of Susan Collins MORE’s (R-Maine) office. Before coming to Capitol Hill, he worked at Ernst and Young.

Both Buchanan and Collins are poised to be key players on tax reform. Buchanan is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Collins, a moderate Republican, is a frequent swing vote in the Senate.

“They’re thoughtful members, they’re leaders in their spaces, and they’re two people for whom tax is among their top priorities,” Netram said.

Buchanan said in a statement to The Hill that Netram is a “superstar” and was “one of the most talented legislative staffers on the Hill.”

“He has a commanding knowledge of the tax code and an extraordinary ability to simplify the most complicated subject,” Buchanan said.

Netram has a law degree from The Catholic University of America and a master’s of law in taxation from Georgetown University.

It was in law school when he first decided to pursue a career in the tax world. He said he was excited by a federal income tax class because of his background as the son of small-business owners.

“The discussions we were having in class, in that federal income tax class, were almost the same discussions that my folks would have around the dinner table,” Netram said.

Law school is also where Netram met his wife, Melissa. They have been married for 13 years and have three daughters, ages 9, 8 and 5.

“They play soccer, they swim, they run, they seem to have something going on every single day,” Netram said. “So that keeps me really, really busy.”