Ways and Means Uses Control Over Revenue Bills to Ward Off Tax Hikes

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 01:  House Ways and Means Committee members (back row, L-R) U.S. Rep.  Kevin Brady (R-TX), U.S. Rep.  Sam Johnson (R-TX), Chairman David Camp (R-MI), ranking member U.S. Rep.  Sandy Levin (D-MI), U.S. Rep.  Charles Rangel (D-NY), (front row L-R) U.S. Rep.  Tom Reed (R-NY), U.S. Rep. Todd Young (R-IN), U.S. Rep.  Mike Kelly (R-PA) and U.S. Rep.  Tim Griffin (R-AR) hear from witnesses during a hearing on the Affordable Care Act in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill August 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. During the hearing titled, "The Status of the Affordable Care Act Implementation," the committee questioned representatives from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Internal Revenue Service responsible for implimenting the ACA.
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Billy House
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Billy House
Oct. 23, 2013, 2 p.m.

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.

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