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Baucus wants weekly tax reform hearings

Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusCryptocurrency industry lobbies Washington for 'regulatory clarity' Bottom line Bottom line MORE (D-Mont.), the panel’s chairman, said he hoped the hearing would be the first in a weekly set of get-togethers on the issue this Congress — much in the way the committee discussed healthcare several years ago before Democrats started a full-court press on the issue.

“Now, as it turned out, that legislation was not bipartisan,” Baucus said. “It was my hope at the time that it would be.”

The five witnesses at the Finance hearing — all former assistant Treasury secretaries for tax policy — certainly gave the panel reason to believe that overhauling the tax code would be difficult. 

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Fred Goldberg, Jonathan Talisman, Mark Weinberger, Pamela Olson and Eric Solomon discussed, among other issues, the difficulties in crafting a revenue-neutral tax reform plan; problems with the alternative minimum tax and the tax exclusion for employer-provided healthcare; and issues with double taxation in the corporate code. 

The former Treasury officials also declared that any successful overhaul of the tax code could take several years and would require leadership from the Oval Office. 

“It’s a very difficult process, as I think we’ve all said," Talisman, who served in the Clinton administration, told the committee. “And I think you’re going at it at a constant but moderate pace.”

For his part, Weinberger, who served under former President George W. Bush, commented that it would be important for many of the negotiations over the tax code to be done more in private — to facilitate a more full exchange of ideas — and said the last successful push for tax reform grew out of then-President Reagan’s support.

“We saw that in 1986,” Weinberger said. “President Reagan at the time made it his No. 1 domestic policy initiative and it still took over two years and failed three times before it was ultimately enacted into law.”

The hearing came as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have given a general endorsement to tax reform. But some areas have already began to emerge as potential sticking points — including revenue collection and whether to push for a more comprehensive overhaul of the code — and many on Capitol Hill are skeptical that any tax reform package can be passed during this Congress.

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Both Baucus and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchDrug prices are declining amid inflation fears The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30 Financial market transactions should not be taxed or restricted MORE (R-Utah), the ranking member of the Finance panel, indicated Tuesday that they didn’t want to rush the tax-reform process.

“The notion is that we’re not going to simply be treating the tax system as a big ugly piñata,” Hatch said in his prepared remarks. “We will methodically examine every feature of the tax system.”

“It’s very early,” Baucus told reporters after the hearing.