Comprehensive Tax Reform Kicks Off Lobbying Frenzy

Speaker of the House John Boehner waits for the next congressman to swear into office at a ceremonial swearing in in the Rayburn Room of the Capitol on Wednesday, January 5, 2011.
National Journal
Billy House
See more stories about...
Billy House
Oct. 23, 2013, 2 p.m.

Hun­dreds of cor­por­a­tions and busi­ness groups — from Fe­d­Ex to Wal-Mart — have been spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars on lob­by­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and Con­gress on com­pre­hens­ive tax re­form.

“What’s the old ad­age? If you’re not at the table, then you’re prob­ably on the menu?” sug­gests Lee Drut­man, a seni­or fel­low at the Wash­ing­ton-based Sun­light Found­a­tion, a non­profit, non­par­tis­an gov­ern­ment-watch­dog or­gan­iz­a­tion.

This table was set last fall, when Ways and Means Com­mit­tee Chair­man Dave Camp, R-Mich., an­nounced un­equi­voc­ally that his pan­el would write, mark up, and pass ma­jor tax-re­form le­gis­la­tion in 2013. Then, Speak­er John Boehner said over­haul­ing the un­wieldy tax code was one of the highest pri­or­it­ies.

The menu cer­tainly holds im­plic­a­tions for in­di­vidu­al tax­pay­ers. But for many cor­por­a­tions and oth­er busi­ness groups, there are hopes — even ex­pect­a­tions — of a cut in the cor­por­ate tax rate from 35 per­cent to as low as 25 per­cent. There is also a push for oth­er moves, such as the re­pat­ri­ation of some off­shore cor­por­ate profits. At the same time, busi­nesses are eager to pre­vent a wide ar­ray of oth­er things from hap­pen­ing, such as the clos­ing of some ex­ist­ing loop­holes.

The dev­il of any re­form is in the de­tails of what ex­actly will be tar­geted. Drut­man’s re­search has found that thou­sands of lob­by­ists are work­ing to make sure roughly 2,000 cli­ent or­gan­iz­a­tions wind up happy, and some of these ef­forts are em­ploy­ing high-pro­file former law­makers.

But gauging the depth of these lob­by­ing ef­forts from the out­side is dif­fi­cult. Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., a Ways and Means mem­ber, says he’s de­tec­ted “no great change … no spe­cial gnash­ing of teeth” in the in­tens­ity of lob­by­ing on tax is­sues this year.

But he says that’s be­cause this lob­by­ing sec­tor is al­ways busy and alert. That’s par­tic­u­larly been the case in an era of el­ev­enth-hour fisc­al-cliff bills and last-second budget man­euvers.

Pascrell did say there seems to have been more dir­ect in­volve­ment from lob­by­ists and stake­hold­ers this time around through par­ti­cip­a­tion in the 11 sep­ar­ate tax-re­form work­ing groups the com­mit­tee has used to re­search is­sues and get feed­back.

The Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics lists the con­tri­bu­tions to Ways and Means mem­bers by polit­ic­al ac­tion com­mit­tees and in­di­vidu­al donors. Based on fil­ings with the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion dat­ing from Janu­ary through Aug. 19 of this year, the site shows that the fin­ance/in­sur­ance/and real es­tate sec­tors have been lead­ing the way—giv­ing about $3.8 mil­lion al­to­geth­er to com­mit­tee mem­bers. These groups are fol­lowed by the health sec­tor, mis­cel­laneous busi­ness in­terests, and or­gan­iz­a­tions tied to en­ergy and nat­ur­al re­sources.

And in the last ses­sion, only two of the top 25 sec­tors with the most tax-re­lated lob­by­ing activ­ity over 2011 and 2012 were not in some way tied to cor­por­a­tions look­ing for their own tar­geted be­ne­fits, ac­cord­ing to Drut­man’s re­search for the Sun­light Found­a­tion.

But law­makers and lob­by­ists note there are oth­er as­pects to lob­by­ing that might not ne­ces­sar­ily show up in fil­ings. Those range from un­der­scor­ing the con­cerns of home-dis­trict busi­nesses that might be im­pacted by tax de­cisions in Wash­ing­ton, to the im­pact for law­makers on per­son­al ties that can im­pact fu­ture job pro­spects in the re­volving-door cul­ture of Wash­ing­ton.

The lob­by­ing on tax re­form con­tin­ues des­pite a grow­ing skep­ti­cism that not much sig­ni­fic­ant re­form will ac­tu­ally take place this year.

Law­makers and lob­by­ists alike say that next week’s kick­off of a budget con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, to be co­chaired by House and Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee chairs Paul Ry­an and Patty Mur­ray, all but en­sures that Camp must now wait for a sort of “road map” from the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee on what might be pur­sued with the Sen­ate, per­haps un­der the bi­par­tis­an cov­er of re­con­cili­ation.

“At this junc­ture, it’s more about put­ting every eye and ear on the ground … to be fo­cused on in­form­a­tion gath­er­ing, and to be ready,” said Steve Pruitt, a former House Demo­crat­ic Budget Com­mit­tee Staff Dir­ect­or who is now a man­aging part­ner at Watts Part­ners, one of the cor­por­ate and gov­ern­ment af­fairs firms that has grabbed a share of the Wal-Mart lob­by­ing budget in 2013.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
×