Online sales tax debate reignited in the House

GOP lawmakers reignited the online sales tax debate on Monday, rolling out a new bill that they said could assuage previous Republican concerns about the issue.

The bill, from House Oversight Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzElijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke MORE (R-Utah) and a group of 15 other House members, would give states greater latitude to charge sales taxes on online purchases from out-of-state customers.

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But supporters say it also improves upon previous online sales tax legislation, called the Marketplace Fairness Act, that made it through the Senate last Congress before getting stonewalled by House GOP leaders.

“We think this is a viable solution. What we’re trying to do is empower states to make these types of decisions,” Chaffetz told reporters at a Monday briefing, alongside Rep. Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackLawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Rubio asks White House to delay B Pentagon contract over Amazon concerns   New CBO report fuels fight over minimum wage MORE (R-Ark.), an original co-sponsor of the measure.

Chaffetz and Womack both stressed that their bill would finally bring parity to the issue of taxing online sales. The Supreme Court has said that states can only collect sales taxes from companies that have a physical location within their borders.

Retail groups and their supporters have long said that online stores that aren’t forced to charge sales taxes get an unfair subsidy from the government.

“The same person, buying the same good, in the same state should probably pay the exact same amount of tax,” Chaffetz said.

The Utah Republican also noted that Overstock, which is headquartered in his district, is also backing his legislation — joining Amazon in supporting a federal solution.

Still, supporters of the new bill acknowledged they face a tough task in getting their measure passed anytime soon.

Both Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIs Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump urges GOP to fight for him Senate Dems signal they'll support domestic spending package Trump's top picks for Homeland Security chief are ineligible for job: reports MORE (R-Ky.) have shown little interest in the issue, which divides Republicans far more than it does Democrats.

Most Democrats back online sales tax legislation, while some of the Marketplace Fairness Act’s loudest critics were GOP presidential contenders like Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Trump has had a rough October Hillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters MORE (Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul confronted over 'Republican bullshit' in restaurant This week: Tensions flare over Schiff, impeachment inquiry Turkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate MORE (Ky.).

And House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview MORE (R-Va.), whose committee has jurisdiction over the online sales tax issue, has proposed far different solutions from Chaffetz’s new bill.

Under a draft proposal Goodlatte circulated in January, retailers would charge sales taxes based on their own local rate. The new bill from Chaffetz and the Marketplace Fairness Act would allow states to levy taxes based on where the customer lives.

Goodlatte has also expressed concerns about protecting small businesses from audits, and that exempting certain small sellers would make a bill too complicated.

Chaffetz and Womack said they kept those concerns in mind when crafting their new bill, which would phase out a small seller exemption and give states less power to audit out-of-state businesses.

But early returns suggest that the bipartisan group of sponsors have not won over Goodlatte or longtime critics in the tech world, like NetChoice.

A House Judiciary aide said that Goodlatte appreciated Chaffetz’s effort, but “does not believe that the approach taken by Rep. Chaffetz is constructive because it would proactively permit states to tax and regulate businesses beyond their borders.”

Chaffetz and Womack both said it would take time for their state’s rights message to win the day with Republicans, who are wary of anything that can be construed as raising taxes.

“I just want people to read the legislation. Read it. Understand it. And don’t go to the bumper sticker politics, the talking point that just says ‘Oh, you’re trying to tax the Internet,’ ” Womack said.