The Senate Finance Committee will hold tax reform hearings and mark up legislation this fall, committee chair Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, pledged August 3 as senators prepared to leave Washington for their five-week recess.
“In the fall, the main priority of the committee will surely be tax reform,” Hatch said during an unrelated hearing on administration nominees. “I intend to work with my colleagues to draft and report legislation through regular order,” he said. “That will mean that we’re going to have to work very assiduously and close together to get things done.”
Hatch’s declaration means that the committee will vote on amendments before sending tax reform legislation to the Senate floor, rather than Republicans drafting the bill behind closed doors without input from Democrats.
Hatch’s remarks come just days after the so-called Big Six group of Republican leaders and administration officials released a statement of principles for a unified tax reform plan that the Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee could consider after Congress returns from its August recess.
The joint statement abandoned the House GOP’s controversial border-adjustable tax while calling for lower tax rates on corporations and individuals and a special lower rate for small passthrough businesses. Democrats, complaining they were being left out of the tax planning, panned GOP calls for a permanent tax plan that includes full expensing of business costs and released their own set of principles.
However, during the Finance Committee hearing, Hatch made a point of including Democrats in the committee’s upcoming tax actions. During his opening remarks, ranking minority member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also advocated handling tax reform in a bipartisan manner, saying, “If you go the partisan route on taxes, you are trampling on the history of successful tax reform.”
Earlier in the week, 43 of the Senate’s Democrats and its two independent senators sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and President Trump outlining three tax reform principles for a bipartisan bill, including not using reconciliation and not giving the wealthy a tax cut.
Despite Hatch’s overture to bipartisanship in the committee, the panel’s Democrats warn that progress on tax reform will be hindered if GOP lawmakers use reconciliation as a means to pass tax reform via a simple majority in a floor vote.
Committee member Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., said the requirements for considering tax legislation under reconciliation will make it difficult for lawmakers to agree on permanent tax policy changes. He added that he hopes the Senate won’t repeat the process that led to the failed vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
In a Senate floor speech later August 3, Hatch called the Democrats’ approach into question.
“If Democrats are willing to engage in good faith on tax reform, why would they first demand that we ensure their ability to block it from ever even coming to the floor before they’d be willing to engage on the substance? The logic is a little dizzying . . . to say the least,” Hatch said. “On top of that, if reconciliation remains on the table, why would that stop Democrats from agreeing on the substance?”
Hatch told reporters he was willing to listen to ideas from both Democrats and Republicans without prejudging the final outcome of the tax bill, but won’t bow to either side’s demands in advance. “I’m not sure what they’re going to ask for,” Hatch said.
Although he is working toward a unified tax reform plan with the White House and the House Ways and Means Committee, Hatch said he is prepared to let the Finance Committee go it alone if those talks prove unproductive. Then the House and Senate would work out legislative differences in a conference, he said.
He also reported some progress on preparing for tax reform. In early July, Hatch asked GOP Sens. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming and Rob Portman of Ohio to study the international tax system, while Portman worked separately with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to look at the individual tax system. Meanwhile, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., worked on the business tax system; GOP Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana worked on energy tax policy; and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., worked on agricultural tax issues.
“They’ve all done their work and they’ve all made recommendations,” Hatch said. “They’ll all be asked to weigh in on the final tax thing.”
Before leaving for the August recess, all Senate Democrats sponsored legislation that would remove “gender-specific references to marriage in the tax code.” The Dignity for Married Taxpayers Act (S. 1715), introduced by Wyden, would ensure “our nation’s tax law offers equal treatment to all married taxpayers,” according to a release.
“For two years, LGBTQ Americans have been able to enjoy the same marriage rights afforded to all Americans, yet they continue to face unjust discrimination in many aspects of life,” Wyden said. “Love is love and it’s high time Congress updated our tax code to reflect that.”
Dylan F. Moroses contributed to this article.
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