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Taxes: Five Hill Aides to Know

There’s bipartisan optimism that, somehow, the next month will yield a deal to extend the payroll tax cut through the end of 2012. But even if that happens, the tax policy world won’t go quiet because Congress must confront all ofthe Bush-era tax cuts set to expire in December. In the meantime, serious work (even if it is behind the scenes) is continuing on an overhaul of the entire IRS code.

Lily Batchelder

Chief tax counsel, Senate Finance Committee

Like so many of the most influential aides on Capitol Hill, Batchelder is manifestly smart and has multiple diplomas from prestigious universities to show for it: an undergraduate degree from Stanford University, a master’s in public policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School and a law degree from Yale University. When not accumulating impressive-looking sheepskins, she worked at an anti-poverty organization, a major law firm and in a state Senator’s office.

The majority of her career, though, has been in academia. Starting at the New York University School of Law in 2005 as an assistant professor, she became an associate professor in two years and a full professor a year after that. Along the way, she also became a visiting law professor at Harvard and an affiliated scholar at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

Since joining the Finance Committee staff two years ago, Batchelder has become a very visible presence on Capitol Hill, often appearing on the dais at hearings and alongside Chairman Max Baucus as he roams the hallways. Though Baucus’ job demands an enormous amount of political acumen, the Montana Democrat (who also went to Stanford) has an intellectual side that Batchelder works to complement. As an academic, her work probed the theoretical underpinnings and social effect of tax law. One of her ideas was to replace the estate tax with a simpler inheritance tax. Another was to expand the use of refundable tax credits.

To be sure, not all of Batchelder’s ideas translate easily into a debate that’s possible in the current political environment. Still, when he hired Batchelder, Baucus said she would help him explore ways to overhaul the tax system, and he has lived up to his promise by holding a series of hearings on the subject.

Though the tax code may not undergo any major changes this year, the prospect that it might in the near future is taken seriously by lobbyists. Should political conditions ever catch up with the Finance chairman’s ambition, there is little question that Batchelder will be one of the most important people in Washington, D.C.

— Sam Goldfarb

Ray Beeman

Tax counsel and special adviser, House Ways and Means Committee

After a 10-year hiatus, Beeman was summoned back to Capitol Hill a year ago by what he described with a laugh as a “cryptic email” from House Ways and Means Staff Director Jon Traub, with whom he previously worked on the Joint Committee on Taxation. “Any interest in coming back to the Hill?” the message read.

The committee’s newly installed Republican chairman, Dave Camp (Mich.), was committed to advancing a comprehensive tax overhaul, Traub said, and wanted to assemble a team with Hill experience, technical expertise and patience for a glacially slow legislative process.

Beeman, a veteran tax lawyer for Venable and Ernst & Young and a four-year veteran of the Joint Taxation panel, was the man for the job, Traub suggested.

For his part, Beeman was lured by the prospect of enacting a broad overhaul of the tax system, an elusive legislative priority since the last major rewrite in 1986. It’s a cause near to his heart, and he was excited by Camp’s vision.

“He’s clear-eyed about what [tax overhaul] means … and he’s very realistic about what’s achievable,” Beeman said. “I’m also a firm believer in Camp’s approach to comprehensive tax reform. We need to do it on the individual side, the corporate side, the international side, the small-business side. … They all hang together, so it’s very hard to do one of those pieces alone.”

Beeman came to tax policy more or less by accident. In his final semester at Pepperdine University’s School of Law, he was required to finally take a course on tax law he’d been avoiding for three years. Unexpectedly, something clicked. He earned a master’s of law in taxation two years later.

Beeman said he’s spent the past year working on readying tax overhaul proposals. While he has no illusions about the difficulty of the task, he’s optimistic that changes can be made. “There are a lot of skeptics out there, and they have reason to be,” he said. “But I think, from where I sit, the table is set to do something, and all we need is people to come to the table, and I think they will.”

— Emma Dumain

George Callas

Staff director, House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures

As Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) works this year to at least lay the groundwork for a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code — understanding that any legislative action is at least a year away — Callas, 38, will be at the center of the discussion.

Fellow Republicans say Callas is particularly adept at translating arcane provisions of tax law into understandable language. He said he enjoys tax policy because it’s like working a complicated jigsaw puzzle.

The subcommittee where he works, known by the initials SRM, essentially exists to take on the chairman’s special projects. For at least this year, that means the preliminary rounds of a tax law rewrite.

“A few years ago, people said tax reform was impossible. Now it’s starting to move in the direction of being inevitable,” Callas said. “The way this place works, I don’t know exactly when the stars will align. But my job is to make sure that when the stars do align, Chairman Camp and the Ways and Means Committee are ready to roll with a fully fleshed-out, comprehensive plan that can become law.”

A moderate Democrat when he was an undergraduate at the University of Florida, Callas said he became disillusioned with the party early in President Bill Clinton’s tenure. But he still prides himself on an ability to work collaboratively with Democratic aides and lawmakers. He said he worked hard, and successfully, to build bridges with aides to Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) during last fall’s ill-fated deliberations of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, when Callas was providing staff support on revenue questions to Camp, another panel member.

Callas was raised in Hollywood, Fla., by parents who worked for the IRS — leading to the inevitable jokes that he has “taxes in his blood.” Now he and his wife, Tania, are raising two young children in the Virginia suburbs. He said a favorite leisure pastime is reading Greek and Roman history.

— Jonathan Strong

Dave Olander

Chief tax counsel, House Ways and Means Committee

Olander came to Capitol Hill right out of college 16 years ago and rose steadily through the ranks to claim one of the most potentially influential Congressional staff jobs there is: principal tax policy adviser to the majority on the House’s tax-writing committee — and just when that panel started a long march toward an overhaul of the federal tax code.

Last year, Olander’s first in the top job, saw a series of hearings and preliminary drafting of possible changes to the taxation of income earned abroad, which he termed “a real milestone in that process.”

He harbors no illusion that the IRS manual is going to be easily replaced in an election year, but Olander said he’ll be helping the Republican Members he works for continue to lay the groundwork for what would eventually become an enormously consequential and intensely lobbied legislative battle. He’ll also be central to the current deliberations over the payroll tax cut extension and the debate expected this fall on the future of the Bush-era tax cuts.

“For better or worse, the tax code affects nearly every sector of the U.S. economy and touches just about every aspect of American life,” Olander said.

The native New Yorker’s first job — after earning his bachelor’s in political science from Brown University — was as a legislative aide to Ways and Means member Wally Herger (R-Calif.). Three years later, he left for law school at the University of Virginia, after which he spent three years at law firm Baker Hostetler. He returned to Capitol Hill to spend three years as tax counsel for former Ways and Means member Tom Reynolds; when the New York Republican retired in 2008, Olander joined the committee staff.

Last year, he helped shepherd into law repeals of the 1099 tax reporting requirement and a requirement that government agencies withhold taxes from payments to contractors. “In a year when not a lot of legislation was enacted into law,” he said, “it was nice to be involved with some bills that actually made it.”

— Ben Weyl

Jeff VanderWolk

International tax counsel, Senate Finance Committee

After a quarter-century trotting the globe practicing tax law, VanderWolk has become an influential player in the Washington debate about how to improve the rules by which he once lived.

International tax law looks to have an uncharacteristically prominent place on the
Congressional agenda this year — especially now that House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has stirred debate with a proposal that would dramatically change the way the United States taxes the overseas profits of multinational businesses.

Speaking on his own behalf at tax conferences, VanderWolk has described Camp’s proposal as a useful starting point for discussions but insufficient in its effort to limit the use of tax havens. Nevertheless, VanderWolk — like his boss, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) — is eager to overhaul the tax system, viewing it as out of date and a drag on the economy.

Like other aides on the Finance Committee, he comes to the task with an impressive résumé, including a master’s degree from the American University in Cairo and a law degree from Columbia University. Soon after finishing at Columbia in 1985, he took his law degree to Asia, drawn by a desire to live abroad in an emerging economy, and for the next 25 years, he spent most of his time there or in London. He was a partner at Deloitte and Touche for five years and at Baker & McKenzie for five more. He then spent three years as a Merrill Lynch managing director. (He also held teaching posts at two Hong Kong universities, wrote and edited several books on tax law, lectured at the London School of Economics and spent a year in the chief counsel’s office at the IRS.)

VanderWolk was prompted to move to Washington, D.C., temporarily, in 2005, after being wooed to join the IRS general counsel’s office by a tax agency official he met at a conference in Barcelona. At the IRS, he developed relationships that ultimately helped bring him back to D.C. from Hong Kong when his current position opened up on Finance two years ago.

— Sam Goldfarb

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