Eight new lawmakers gained seats on the House Ways and Means Committee in 2017, just as the powerful taxwriting panel is set to begin drafting comprehensive tax reform and a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.
Even as they learn the ropes on the 40-member committee, these lawmakers have set their sights on promoting the kind of economic growth that boosts the hometown industries that their constituents rely on for jobs and financial well-being.
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Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.
Year Elected: 2009
Subcommittees: Health and Human Resources
Chu said the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee chose her to fill the opening on the Ways and Means Committee left by former Rep. Xavier Becerra, who resigned from Congress last month to become California's attorney general. (Prior coverage: Tax Notes, Jan. 30, 2017, p. 545.) She was confirmed by the full House Democratic caucus on February 7.
"I really want to dig into what these tax reform proposals are," Chu told Tax Analysts. "I do think that we need to make sure that middle-class families are the true beneficiaries, and I'm very, very concerned about just the very wealthy being able to benefit from these tax cuts."
On her website, Chu argues for the extension of tax credits for investing in plants and equipment to "rebuild the American manufacturing base." She also argues for the closing of "tax loopholes that encourage outsourcing U.S. jobs overseas," while providing incentives for businesses to add jobs in the United States.
Chu on her website touts voting for the Manufacturing Enhancement Act of 2010, saying the law contained hundreds of tariff suspensions and reductions to allow manufacturing companies to increase production, create more jobs in the United States, and compete internationally.
Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz.
Year Elected: 2010
Subcommittees: Oversight, Social Security
Schweikert's love of coffee and mathematics has come in handy now that he sits on the House Ways and Means Committee.
The Arizona Republican said his first three weeks on the powerful taxwriting panel have been filled with late nights studying briefing books on tax reform, especially the border adjustability proposal included in the House GOP's "A Better Way" tax reform blueprint.
"Tax-policy-wise, my personal fixation is growth and fairness," Schweikert told Tax Analysts, adding that his contribution to the GOP blueprint was a "fairly aggressive" territorial tax bill addressing corporate inversions and the distortion inherent in repatriation holidays. "The nice thing is they took a couple of the mechanics, and it became part of Better Way," he said. "I think it helped us get on the committee because it demonstrated we actually had an intellectual interest in some of the difficulties."
Schweikert said he is ready to focus on tax reform and replacing the ACA this year because Republican leadership has set a 2017 deadline for action. "When you know you're going to have to deal with it, you stay up at night reading," he said, referring to several binders of tax studies submitted by businesses in his district.
Although most of Schweikert's legislative experience has been focused on financial services, he has been involved in several tax-related efforts involving the IRS.
In 2015 Schweikert was one of 17 lawmakers who signed a letter asking the leadership of the House Appropriations Committee to include language in appropriations legislation preventing the IRS from finalizing regulations to require charitable organizations to collect donors' Social Security numbers.
Schweikert also signed on to a 2015 letter to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., expressing support for allowing the wind energy protection tax credit to expire. In another letter that same year, he asked Treasury to provide a written assessment of the IRS's service to taxpayers in the 2015 filing season.
Notable legislation introduced by Schweikert includes the Denying Amnesty Bonuses Act, a measure to deny the earned income tax credit to individuals who have received temporary deportation relief and work authorization. He also introduced legislation to prevent retroactive EITC claims by individuals authorized to work under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program.
Rep. Suzan K. DelBene, D-Wash.
Year Elected: 2012
Subcommittees: Tax Policy, Oversight
Serving a border state with major trade dependencies, DelBene comes to the Ways and Means Committee with state tax policy experience and responsibility for a diverse constituency that includes technology and agricultural centers.
"We have a lot of unique issues as we look at innovation, digital goods companies, and business communities that work in a global marketplace," DelBene told Tax Analysts. "All of these things collectively as it relates to tax policy are very important and the reason I was interested in serving on the committee."
DelBene said the opportunity to serve on Ways and Means came when former Rep. Jim McDermott, a fellow Washingtonian who served on the committee, retired at the end of last year. "Congressman McDermott sent me a nice note when I was named to the committee. He clearly brought a strong voice for bringing access to healthcare," she said.
DelBene said working for a biomedical research firm in her professional career also motivated her to earn a committee seat because of the panel's important role in shaping healthcare policy and encouraging innovation. She said the large technology industry presence and agricultural community in her district influence her thoughts on tax reform priorities. "Focusing on how the world works today, and how it is going to work into the future, I think it's really important to look at tax policy with that in mind. Tax policy hasn't always looked that way."
The tax reform frenzy taking hold in Washington regarding the House Republican tax reform blueprint has created uncertainty rather than excitement for constituents in DelBene's district, she said.
"I think, number one, that folks don't have enough detail to really know what the proposal is that [committee Chair Kevin Brady, R-Texas,] is talking about, and how that will impact them. On a border adjustment tax, we're the most trade-dependent state in the country. How exactly that works, the impact that will have on our communities, how it impacts commerce across our border -- these are all open questions," DelBene told Tax Analysts.
DelBene will also serve on the House Budget Committee. She previously worked as director of the Washington State Department of Revenue. She ran unsuccessfully against House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chair David G. Reichert, R-Wash., in 2010, before winning in a newly drawn district.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla.
Year Elected: 2014
Subcommittees: Human Resources, Oversight
New Ways and Means Committee member Curbelo said his main focus regarding tax reform is to boost economic growth "especially for low-income people, the most vulnerable people in our country," whom he champions while representing the South Florida region.
"My goal, I think, is the goal of every Ways and Means Committee member, which is to produce a tax code that makes the American worker more confident, that produces more growth," Curbelo told Tax Analysts.
Curbelo said he sees the GOP tax reform effort as a way to create jobs, adding that a reformed tax code would "expand opportunity for everyone" by helping wages rise and assisting people who are unemployed or are seeking full-time work.
Even before becoming a member of the taxwriting committee, Curbelo was a vocal proponent of overhauling the tax code since winning election to the House in 2014. On his website, he calls the tax code "inefficient and excessively complex" and touts his experience as a former small business owner in arguing for comprehensive, pro-growth tax reform.
"While deductions and loopholes benefit some, the overall tax code is disadvantageous for both individuals and businesses and has resulted in limited economic stimulation," Curbelo says on the website. He urged Treasury last year to use its authority to provide Puerto Rico and other territories with temporary relief from the health insurance provider fee imposed by the ACA. He has also supported efforts to repeal the ACA's medical device excise tax.
Since being appointed a taxwriter, Curbelo has already requested that President Trump provide funding for the IRS Office of Taxpayer Services, particularly for programs involving low-income taxpayer clinics, tax counseling for the elderly, and volunteer income tax assistance grants. "Funding for these essential services has received bipartisan support under both Republican and Democratic Administrations," wrote Curbelo, adding that volunteer income tax assistance is critical to South Florida, "where tax fraud and abuse of low-income filers is rampant, especially among immigrant communities."
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y.
Year Elected: 2004
Subcommittees: Health, Social Security
Higgins said his priority while working on Ways and Means will be funding an infrastructure investment of a trillion dollars. "I will advance, cosponsor, or sponsor myself legislation on the infrastructure piece. And to propose that infrastructure is going to be paid by tax credits for the private industry -- that's not going to happen," he said.
"I'm comfortable in funding an infrastructure bill in a way that infrastructure investment is typically financed, and that is through the issuance of bonds or debt," Higgins said. "Cities do it, counties do it, villages do it, towns do it, and you finance the cost of the infrastructure over the life of the infrastructure project, and you can borrow at extremely low rates."
Higgins said he was willing to work with Republicans on infrastructure in some aspects and proposed that "the $1 trillion investment should be over five years, and I think we should immediately do another trillion dollars at the expiration of that five-year period -- $2 trillion over 10 years, not $1 trillion over 10 years." Senate Democrats have proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that they said would create 15 million jobs without relying on revenue from repatriated corporate earnings, tax credits, or public-private partnerships.
House Republicans have been less clear on infrastructure investment. Ryan said infrastructure will be part of Republicans' first 200-day agenda and that Republicans will determine the size of an infrastructure package during budget planning this spring.
Another priority for the New York Democrat is new markets tax credits, of which he has long been a proponent. He signed a letter last year that called for extension of the credit as part of tax reform efforts. He introduced legislation in 2011 to extend the credit.
Higgins said that in his district, historic and new markets tax credits were "profoundly influential in rebuilding" the city of Buffalo. "Those investments would not have been made without these tax credit programs," he said. "I'll be looking to rigorously protect the continuation of those tax credit programs."
Higgins said those credits encourage developers to take on projects in areas where they are not otherwise financially viable. "So why would you want to take those away? Because those investments wouldn't be made anyhow, so why not incentivize them with really a market-rate approach in the form of tax credits?" he said. "If it works for child care, it should also apply to economic development and economically distressed areas."
Higgins was previously a member of Ways and Means during the 111th Congress. He joined the committee when Democrats increased their majority in the House following the 2008 elections, but was cut from its roster after Republicans regained the majority in the 2010 elections.
Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind.
Year Elected: 2012
Subcommittees: Human Resources, Oversight, Social Security
Representing one of the largest manufacturing districts in the United States, Indiana's latest Ways and Means Committee member is looking toward the House Republican tax reform proposal to help her constituents expand their wealth and businesses.
Walorski told Tax Analysts that Indiana's large export volume plays a pivotal role in her district and will help shape her views on tax reform as House Republicans transform their tax reform blueprint into legislative language.
"We're definitely at the table for tax reform, and Hoosiers always are because of exporting; we're an agricultural exporting state, a manufacturing exporting state. We produce things that people buy, and so [tax reform] is always about the details of what those things look like for us," Walorski said.
Walorski said she won her 2016 reelection by running on the proposals in the House GOP blueprint, explaining that things like simplicity in the tax code and "bringing fairness really resonated with people. It didn't matter their political background. They loved it."
Walorski wanted a seat on Ways and Means because "regardless of who the president was going to be, this country [was] ready for tax reform."
"Two things go hand in hand," explained the Indiana lawmaker. First is "rolling back regulations that have just been onerous to folks in our state like employers, job creators, and innovators," and the second thing is tax reform and leveling the playing field "for the first time in decades in this country," she said. "Driving that tax rate down. Those things are very important to folks in my state and my district."
Walorski came to the House in 2013 after winning the seat vacated by former Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, who won his 2012 bid to represent Indiana in the Senate.
Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala.
Year elected: 2010
Subcommittees: Health, Human Resources
Ever since she was elected to Congress in 2010 to replace former Ways and Means Committee member Artur Davis, Sewell has been interested in serving on the taxwriting panel to help address the poverty, Social Security, and Medicare issues affecting residents of Alabama's 7th Congressional District.
Sewell, who notes she is only the second African-American woman to sit on Ways and Means, said she hopes to bring a unique voice to the committee since she represents the "missing perspective" of underserved communities in the industrial and rural South that rely on the solvency of Medicaid and Medicare.
"Given the Republican agenda in the 115th Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, to privatize Medicare, and to undermine Social Security, it will be imperative to have strong advocates who will fiercely protect the social safety net that provides a lifeline for so many Americans," Sewell said in a statement after her appointment to the panel.
Before becoming the first black woman elected to Congress from Alabama, Sewell practiced public finance law in Birmingham. She earned a law degree from Harvard University, as well as a bachelor's degree from Princeton University and a master's degree from Oxford University.
Although she is new to Ways and Means, Sewell has introduced several pieces of tax legislation and has been involved with other tax-related matters during her time in Congress. Her legislation includes:
- The Workforce Development Tax Credit Act (H.R. 1781), introduced with Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., among others. The bill would encourage businesses to work with community colleges and universities to train and hire apprentices for 21st-century manufacturing jobs.
- The Small Business Start-Up Savings Accounts Act of 2016 (H.R. 5783), introduced with Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-R.I., and former Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida. The bill would allow entrepreneurs to save up to $10,000 in after-tax income per year in tax-free accounts to help ensure access to sufficient start-up capital.
- The Helping Working Families Afford Child Care Act (H.R. 1780). Cosponsored by Ways and Means Committee member Ron Kind, D-Wis., the bill would make the tax credit for employment-related expenses incurred for dependent care more widely available.
Sewell also served on an investigative subcommittee of the House Ethics Committee that examined a case against Brown, who allegedly committed fraud and failed to comply with tax laws.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a senior member of Ways and Means and chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, gave Sewell's bipartisan work on the panel top marks. "I really enjoy working with her. She's going to be great" for Ways and Means, Nunes said, although he noted that bipartisanship is harder to come by on the tax panel.
Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Mich.
Year elected: 2014
Subcommittees: Oversight, Human Resources
Bishop was selected to be the newest member of the House Ways and Means Committee on February 14, replacing former Rep. Tom Price, who was recently confirmed as health and human services secretary.
The House Steering Committee recommended Bishop to fill the opening left by Price, according to a press release from Brady. The recommendation still requires the approval of the House Republican Conference, the release notes.
"I am ready to get to work with Chairman Brady and the committee to simplify our tax code, create more jobs and replace Obamacare with a health care law that works for more hardworking Americans," Bishop said in a statement.
The current federal tax code is "a convoluted and broken mess," Bishop says on his website. "It is known that 90 percent of Michigan families and small business owners today either pay someone to negotiate the maze of tax forms and deductions, or purchase commercial software to aid in filing tax returns," he added. "All totaled, Michigan residents spend over $160 billion and about 6 billion hours a year trying to comply with the tax code."
Bishop also advocates lowering the tax rate, saying that it will create jobs, strengthen the economy, and "allow taxpayers to keep more of the money they worked so hard to earn."
"As our Committee moves forward with our pro-growth agenda, I look forward to having Mike's valuable perspective on issues that affect the lives of his constituents in the 8th district of Michigan and all Americans," Brady said in his statement.