The lack of legislative production in the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees, two of the most powerful panels in Congress, could persist if Republican leaders continue a strategy to limit revenue bills.
Aides to House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., say lawmakers on both panels have been busy spearheading efforts on tax reform.
But so far, the Senate Finance Committee has actually advanced only one committee report through May, and that was simply a technical measure outlining the panel’s activities during the last session. The committee has also acted on four Obama nominees, including Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, and on Thursday will hold a hearing to consider the nomination of Mike Froman as U.S. trade representative.
The House Ways and Means Committee has moved just two markups through May. Both are largely partisan messaging bills passed along party lines by the full House, and neither will gain traction in the Democratic-led Senate.
The two committees had a similarly slow start to the 111th Congress in 2009. But otherwise, this year marks the lowest number of markups through the first five months of a congressional session for either committee since 1997, records show.
What may be partly responsible is a House Republican strategy to limit economic moves in the Senate. The Constitution requires revenue measures to originate in the House. Once the Senate receives those bills, they can be used as a vehicle to substitute the upper chamber’s own tax priorities. So by withholding action on revenue bills, House leaders can limit the Senate’s options.
One Democratic aide said that Republicans have come up with “an excuse not to do any legislating.”
For now, the leaders of the Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees are emphasizing their ongoing efforts to make tax reform happen.
Baucus and his Finance Committee are holding bipartisan weekly meetings to discuss option papers on specific tax issues as part of its process to develop reforms. Beyond that, he has emphasized his aggressive trade agenda—including renewing trade-promotion authority and trade-adjustment assistance.
Camp’s aides on Ways and Means say that panel is similarly busy. Camp has released two discussion papers (one on financial products and the other on small business), and he and ranking member Sander Levin of Michigan created 11 bipartisan working groups to explore current tax policy and proposals. The Committee has also launched a series of hearings looking at bipartisan initiatives to protect and preserve Medicare and Social Security.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has already underscored that tax reform is a top priority, by setting aside “H.R. 1” as the bill number for the tax effort.
But whether comprehensive tax reform is a goal lawmakers can reach this year—or even this session—may be the real question. There is growing speculation that the entire process could extend into 2014. Meanwhile, there are dozens of temporary tax provisions that are due to expire at the end of 2013.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Sander Levin.
This article appears in the June 7, 2013 edition of NJ Daily as House GOP Leaders Limit Revenue Bills to Stall Senate.