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Van Hollen Complains of ‘Dark of Night’ House GOP Tax Bill

Dems plan to hold hearings on problems with tax code overhaul

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., says a tax bill released Monday by House Republicans will get a cool reception. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., says a tax bill released Monday by House Republicans will get a cool reception. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Chris Van Hollen said a 200-page-plus tax bill released late Monday by House Republicans would receive a cool reception from Democrats.

“It was sort of put together in the same way their huge tax bill was put together, in the dark of night,” Van Hollen said, referring to the tax code overhaul  signed into law last December. Van Hollen’s comments came at a “Election Impact: Tax Policy in 2019,” a Roll Call Live event held at FiscalNote headquarters on tax policies expected to take center stage in the 116th Congress. 

“We’ll take a look at the individual elements,” the Maryland Democrat said of the complex bill released by House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady. “Democrats are not going to allow this bill to be used as sort of a vehicle” to repair problems with last year’s bill, he said.

Instead, Democrats will support incoming Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., who plans to hold hearings delving into problems with the tax code overhaul in detail, Van Hollen said.

That would lead to an effort by Democrats to try to reopen the tax code overhaul law, though not for the “small benefit” the bill brought to the middle class. But the “tax break for millionaires, that will definitely be revisited,” he said.

Late night surprise

Brady, R-Texas, surprised Democrats Monday night when he released his large collection of tax provisions.

That put the lame-duck session effort to pass a major package of tax provisions in the spot light.

Few features in the bill were unexpected. All 26 tax extenders – tax breaks that had expired last year and were in line to be extended another year – were in the bill, though two of them did get special treatment. Tax incentives valued at $3.3 billion a year for the biodiesel industries would be extended four years, followed by a three-year phase out. And a railroad maintenance tax credit would be made permanent, though cut from 50 percent to 30 percent.

Course corrections

The bill also includes technical corrections to the tax-code overhaul, and changes from existing bills that would overhaul the IRS, make changes to retirement and savings laws. The other major section of the bill extends temporary tax relief for those in declared disaster areas hit by Hurricane Michael which made landfall in Florida in October, Hurricane Florence which pummeled the Carolinas in September, Typhoon Mangkhut which hit Guam in September, and Typhoon Yutu, a late season storm that hit the Northern Mariana Islands.

The bill also includes temporary tax breaks for victims of California wildfires and the for those who suffered losses following the eruption earlier this year of Mount Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Van Hollen, who is chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, painted the election as a success for Democrats despite the growing Republican majority in the upper chamber.

He attributed some of the GOP’s election difficulties in part to the reaction in higher-tax states to capping the state and local income tax deduction, known as SALT, which the senator noted is the oldest tax break in the income tax code.

The cap on the state and local tax deduction “will definitely be revisited,” Van Hollen said, noting that 350,000 Maryland households will see an increase in their taxes because of the change.

Democrats had to defend 26 of the 34 seats that were up this year, while Republicans defended only eight. Meanwhile, Democrats won races in eight states won by President Donald Trump in 2016, while Republicans won in no state carried by Hillary Clinton, Van Hollen noted.

“It is really hard to pass a tax cut…where more people in the country think it was a bad idea than a good idea,” but Republicans managed to do just that, he said.

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