Republicans to Weigh Surplus of Tax Policy Options

Standalone bills provide a glimpse into senators’ priorities

South Dakota Sen. John Thune has introduced several standalone bills that could be wrapped into a broader overhaul of the U.S. tax code. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
South Dakota Sen. John Thune has introduced several standalone bills that could be wrapped into a broader overhaul of the U.S. tax code. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:05am

Legislation introduced by Republican senators over the past several months could help guide the upcoming debate on an overhaul of the U.S. tax code.

While the effort is still in the adolescent stage, the bills provide an early look into the priorities members will push for during the forthcoming tax negotiations.

The White House and Republican congressional leaders have been meeting behind closed doors for months to discuss the broad framework for the tax overhaul. The Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax issues, has also held regular meetings on the effort.

But following Senate Republicans’ failed attempt to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, that debate is set to become much more public.

Lawmakers will return from the August recess facing a litany of policy options that must be whittled down. And with a number of other pressing deadlines before them, the desire by some in the White House to finish work on the tax overhaul by November seems increasingly unlikely.

Potential policy options

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune has introduced several pieces of standalone legislation for possible inclusion. Among them are bills that would: repeal the estate tax; allow easier access to capital for small businesses with a limited amount of shareholders, and permit businesses to classify some employees as independent contractors for tax purposes.

“I’ve been working hard to get a head start on tax reform so we can hit the ground running when the Senate returns to Washington from its summer state work period,” the South Dakota Republican, who sits on the Finance panel, wrote in a recent op-ed on his website. “Setting these goals is the easy part. The hard, but necessary work of getting a bill on the president’s desk comes next.”

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, another Republican on the Finance Committee, has also introduced several bills that could be wrapped into a broader overhaul of the tax code. One measure would provide a federal tax credit to companies that utilize apprenticeship programs. Another aims to bolster private investment in economically disparate regions by creating targeted funding pools.

Republicans not on the tax panel are also weighing in.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, for example, has pushed for the expansion of the child tax credit, a proposal he has worked on with Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser to her father, President Donald Trump. 

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has advocated legislation that would lift a requirement that foreign financial institutions report to the Internal Revenue Services information about accounts owned by U.S. citizens. While the law was designed to help prevent tax evasion, Paul has argued it hinders investment and impedes on privacy rights.

Comments on the overall effort from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been very broad, but he recently reiterated that the goals of the tax overhaul would be to help middle-class families and American businesses, both small and large.

“This won’t be an easy process, but the people we represent are depending on us for help. Now is the time to deliver tax reform, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to accomplish it,” the Kentucky Republican said in a floor speech earlier this month.

Republicans are planning to use the budget reconciliation process to advance an overhaul of the tax code in the Senate with only a simple majority.

The GOP used the same strategy on health care, but that effort failed in the Senate after Sen. John McCain of Arizona joined Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine joined Democrats in in opposing the GOP repeal legislation.