Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 5, 2015

Does Anyone Care About Finance Deadline for Tax Overhaul Plans? (Updated)

Updated 4:59 p.m. | Today could bring a news dump full of wonky tax code overhaul suggestions — or not.

It is the deadline to submit proposals for the blank slate tax overhaul envisioned by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Thursday blasted the idea, saying he never read the duo’s letter asking for submissions. Late Thursday, one Democratic aide offered a competing analysis of the Reid statement, signaling at least some discord on that side of the aisle.

“Today’s outburst by Reid shows how real the prospects of tax reform are. Baucus shook some people up when he said he’s going to mark up a bill this fall. People might have to actually stray from their partisan talking points and start working together,” the aide said.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., however,  joined the small group of senators publicly disclosing priorities for overhauling the tax code on Friday. Arizona Republican Jeff Flake released a blueprint Thursday, and like that letter, none of what Rockefeller is suggesting is too surprising.

In his missive, the West Virginia Democrat calls for making the tax laws more progressive and increasing revenues substantially, backing the $975 billion increase in revenue called for by the Senate-passed budget resolution.

Rockefeller’s letter, which largely steers clear of specific tax provisions, alludes to maintaining charitable deductions and also cites the importance of refundable tax credits.

“We should be looking at the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as other areas like the refundable Child Tax Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit, and the Saver’s Credit, to determine how we can improve and expend them to increase opportunities and economic security for low-income families,” the letter said. “Sound preferences for charities can allow for added resources for those who need help most.”

On Thursday, Rockefeller suggested to CQ Roll Call that the exercise may be futile because he suspects Baucus and Hatch already have a sense of their way forward on the tax overhaul.

Update 4:59 p.m.

As the end of the day neared, at least a handful of tax overhaul letters had surfaced.

The office of Sen. Michael D. Crapo forwarded the Idaho Republican’s letter to #WGDB on Friday afternoon, posted here. Crapo has been involved in a number of previous attempts to develop a bipartisan deficit reduction package, including the Bowles-Simpson Commission.

Crapo’s letter includes a discussion of the important (but terribly wonky) issue of which baseline is best used when scoring the budget effects of the plan.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., endorses starting the project with a blank slate. He calls for eliminating an assortment of what he calls “tax loopholes.” Perhaps more interestingly, he calls for a new tax code to include a sunset to force lawmakers to revisit it.

“Such a ‘sunsetting’ requirement would force Congress to periodically consider the effectiveness and the need to keep each and every tax break on the books — thus creating a means to a more cost-efficient system of governing. The majority of the tax cuts enacted in 2001, 2002 and 2003 all had to be renewed in recent years — and, we had to vote on whether to keep them,” Nelson wrote. “And perhaps requiring a large majority for approval would prevent any new special-interest tax breaks from creeping back in.”

Wyoming Republican Michael B. Enzi also released suggestions, including the text of two bills he has previously introduced. One of them pertains to filing deadlines, the other deals with international provisions of tax law.

Sen. Bernard Sanders had no shortage of suggestions of his own for additional revenue, which are posted on his Senate website. The independent from Vermont also criticized the idea of keeping tax overhaul suggestions secret.

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