WASHINGTON — Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, under fire for a plan to keep committee members' proposals for overhauling the Internal Revenue Code secret, may release portions of the legislation after the August recess.
The Montana democrat plans to release a broad outline of a comprehensive tax reform bill and several discussion drafts in an effort to move the process forward, lobbyists with knowledge of the matter said. In a Senate floor speech July 23, Baucus said that the Senate Finance Committee would mark up a tax reform bill this fall, although he did not offer a target date.
Word of the plan to release details comes after 30 organizations sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee last Friday denouncing Baucus and ranking member Sen. Orrin Hatch's, R-Utah., proposal to keep Senators' tax reform recommendations secret for 50 years. In a memo to colleagues to guarantee confidentiality, the Senate Finance Committee said that all written submissions would not be released to the public until the end of 2064. The only people authorized to review the material are the chairman, ranking member, authorized staff or if under the supervision of authorized staff, other finance committee staff.
Earlier this month, Baucus and Hatch announced a "blank slate" approach to tax reform which would strip all existing tax deductions, exemptions and credits — including the exclusion for municipal bond tax exemption — from the Internal Revenue Code and then add back the provisions most strongly backed by Senators. Senators were given until July 26 to submit their proposals. A handful of Senators including Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., released their proposals publicly last Friday.
"We strongly urge you to reconsider this approach that smacks of backroom deals," the groups wrote Friday. "The House Ways & Means Committee urged lawmakers and outside interests to submit their priorities and made them public. We urge a similar approach."
The groups noted that the famous book "Showdown at Gucci Gulch" about the 1986 tax reform legislation, was published one year after the law was enacted.
"If your comprehensive tax reform efforts are successful, your secrecy policy would delay that history from being written for 50 years," they wrote. "Again, we urge you to conduct your work in light of day."
Meanwhile, Baucus and House Ways and Means chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., toured Philadelphia Monday for the second stop on their nationwide campaign to promote tax reform. They met with small business owners and Baucus noted there are 31 different definition of a "small business" in the tax code.
Even with Baucus' draft legislation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has vowed to kill any rewrite of the tax code this Congress if it doesn't raise significant new revenue, starting with about $1 trillion. This is a stark difference from the revenue-neutral tax reform that Baucus and Camp have been promoting.