It wields one of the most significant powers in the House of Representatives — originating revenue bills — but the Ways and Means Committee has barely used it since Republicans took control of the chamber in 2011.
Instead, GOP leaders have been adhering to a strategy of bottling up revenue bills until a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code is finished, as a tactical way to hobble Senate Democrats.
"It's kind of embarrassing for the committee overseeing revenue bills to not have done any, but that's what's going on," suggested one senior House Democratic aide.
That's not how Republicans on the panel see it. Rep. Pat Tiberi of Ohio candidly explained: "I don't think there is a lot of faith in what [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid might do with them."
To be clear, a handful of revenue measures have moved from the House floor to the Senate, including a vaccine compensation fund bill and legislation to repeal the health care law. But those measures were not the products of Ways and Means.
Instead, House Republican leaders have pointed to their concern about Senate Democrats' potential use — or misuse, in their view — of House-originated revenue bills to advance tax hikes or other measures Republicans oppose. And because the Constitution requires revenue measures to originate in the House, the lack of Ways and Means action has starved the Senate of vehicles that could carry revenue measures.
The no-revenue-bills strategy has been openly acknowledged. At a Tax Executives Institute conference in Washington this month, E. Ray Beeman, tax counsel to the Ways and Means Committee, said as much during a panel discussion. "We don't anticipate moving any revenue measures through the House before H.R. 1 moves through," Beeman said, according to those in attendance.
H.R. 1 is the bill number that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has set aside for tax reform, a signal that it is a top priority. But exactly when Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich. — who is overseeing the effort toward a comprehensive tax-code overhaul — will introduce a proposal remains uncertain.
Meanwhile, the no-revenue-bills strategy is holding even for popular legislation.
One example is the now famous proposed repeal of the 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices enacted in 2010 to help pay for President Obama's health reform law. Proponents of repeal say the tax puts up to 43,000 high-paying U.S. jobs at risk.
The Senate, in a symbolic move of support for the legislation, voted 79-20 to repeal the tax as part of the chamber's 2014 budget resolution. Yet the bill remains frozen in the House, despite having more than 260 bipartisan House cosponsors. A two-year delay in the tax had been raised as a concession that House Republicans might accept for reopening the government during the recent shutdown, or as an element of a debt-ceiling deal. But Obama and Reid opposed it being used in such bargaining.
In addition, the ongoing Republican strategy could delay House action on dozens of temporary tax provisions that are due to expire at the end of 2013.
At least 55 expiring tax provisions are on that list, involving incentives or credits in areas ranging from research and development to film and television production, according to a January report by the Joint Committee on Taxation.
In the past, Congress has approved legislation, retroactively renewing extensions after their deadlines have passed. But delay creates uncertainty for the businesses and individuals affected.