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Posts tagged ‘Senate Finance Committee’

Wyden Waiting in the Wings to Take Over Senate Finance.


Image: Wyden Waiting in the Wings to Take Over Senate Finance

 

By Elliot Jager

Sen. Ron Wyden is set to become the next head of the Senate Finance Committee if Montana Democrat Max Baucus retires as expected to become the next U.S. ambassador to China, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Oregon Democrat, respected in his party for his generally liberal views but described by Republicans as willing to reach accommodation across the aisle on economic issues, is expected to push for tax reform, which could include a substantial in the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 24 percent, according to the Journal.

Bloomberg also reports another reason for Republicans to like him: he is “an ardent advocate of tax simplification,” favoring individual rates at 15, 25 and 35 percent.

Former New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, who worked with the 64-year-old Wyden on a tax reform measure some years back, told the Journal that Wyden has an “unrelenting positive outlook” on things and never gave up trying to hammer out a bipartisan bill even though it ultimately died without consideration.

Another House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, also said Wyden “understands that true bipartisanship builds on the best ideas from both parties.”

The Wisconsin Republican, who is likely to succeed Michigan Rep. Dave Camp as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, would have an opportunity to work with Wyden again next year if Republicans hold the House and Democrats hold the Senate. The two have worked in 2011 on Medicare reform plan, an effort that did not sit well with some of Wyden’s liberal colleagues, The Hill reported.

Wyden, however, has said that he has no plans to work with Ryan again on a Medicare reform effort, although the program remains one of his concerns. He reportedly believes that some effort has to be made to ensure that the program is more sustainable and more focused on chronic health problems.

“His big thing is that if you’re not talking about Medicare, you’re not talking about [fixing] the budget,” former Wyden aide Barbara Smith Warner told the Journal.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

 

Obama Looks to Baucus to Serve as China Ambassador.


President Barack Obama is looking to the Senate again to fill a top diplomatic post, with Democratic officials saying he intends to nominate six-term Sen. Max Baucus of Montana to be the next U.S. ambassador to China.

Baucus, who announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election, is knowledgeable on trade issues as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee but better known for his work on that panel steering Obama’s health care overhaul into law three years ago.

If confirmed by the Senate, Baucus would replace Ambassador Gary Locke, who plans to step down next year. The White House could make a formal announcement about the selection of Baucus as early as Thursday.

Nearly a year ago, Obama reached into the Senate ranks when he nominated then-Sen. John Kerry to serve as secretary of state. The Massachusetts Democrat had a smooth path to confirmation, and Baucus, as a member of the Senate club, is likely to easily secure approval from his colleagues.

Baucus’ departure from the Senate would have an immediate impact on one of Congress’ most powerful committees and on the 2014 election for control of Congress. Under Montana state law, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock has the authority to name a Senate successor to serve until the election, and speculation immediately turned to a fellow Democrat, Lt. Gov. John Walsh, already running for Senate.

Baucus, 72, sidestepped questions about the ambassadorship when asked in the Capitol. “It’s not for me to comment on. … This happens every once in a while. Names get floated around.”

The White House had no immediate comment on the disclosure, which was made by officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the nomination publicly before a formal announcement.

Kathy Weber, a spokeswoman in Baucus’ office, declined to confirm the move but said, “Max has given his life to public service and when asked to serve he takes that request very seriously.”

Obama is in search of a new top diplomat in Beijing as he executes a so-called Asia pivot in U.S. military strategy to more directly counter China after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The relationship between the two nations has grown more troubled in recent weeks, with Chinese authorities unilaterally declaring an air defense zone over disputed islands in the East China Sea. The United States subsequently flew a pair of B-52 bombers through the space last month without incident, and Vice President Joe Biden sought to calm matters on his recent trip through Asia.

Baucus was first elected to the Senate in 1978 and since early 2007 has been chairman of the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over taxes, trade, health care and more. He has traveled to China more than a half dozen times.

On some key issues, he has pursued a more moderate approach than some fellow Democrats would prefer, a reminder that he hails from a rural, Western state with a history of electing Republicans as well as Democrats to top political offices.

Shortly after becoming chairman, he led the opposition to then-President George W. Bush’s proposal to privatize Social Security.

Two years later, with Obama in the White House, he struggled for months to assemble bipartisan backing for health care legislation in 2009 to the growing impatience of fellow Democrats. He managed to gain one Republican vote for legislation that cleared committee, but the final bill was thoroughly partisan.

As committee chairman, Baucus has pressed both Democratic and Republican administrations to take a harder line against what he says are unfair Chinese trade practices. The country has the largest trade surplus of any nation with the U.S., and American manufacturers claim it is manipulating its currency to maintain that imbalance.

Inside the Senate, Baucus’ appointment would create a vacancy atop the panel that Senate Democrats would fill. Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia is immediately behind Baucus in seniority and ordinarily would ascend to the chairmanship but has announced he intends to retire at the end of next year. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon is next in line in seniority.

In comments to reporters, Rockefeller indicated he would not seek to claim the spot, saying it would be good if Wyden succeeded Baucus. “I want that committee to be a little more aggressive, and he will be,” he said.

Wyden is chairman of the Energy Committee and would likely be replaced there by an oil state Democrat, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

With Democrats struggling to retain their majority in the 2014 elections, Baucus’ announced retirement had turned the state into a challenging one for the party. Obama lost the state in 2012 to Republican Mitt Romney by 13 points.

First-term Republican Rep. Steve Daines has announced his candidacy for the seat.

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© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: Newsmax.com

Officials: Baucus to be Named Ambassador to China.


Democratic officials say President Barack Obama intends to nominate Montana Sen. Max Baucus as ambassador to China.

The nomination is subject to Senate confirmation. The Democrat had announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election.

The 72-year-old Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over taxes, trade and other areas.

He was instrumental in efforts to pass Obama’s health care law four years ago and has spent much of this year seeking to build support for a sweeping overhaul of the tax code.

There was no immediate comment from the White House.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the nomination in advance of Obama’s announcement.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: Newsmax.com

Rep. Ryan to Sebelius: Why Won’t You Testify?.


Image: Rep. Ryan to Sebelius: Why Won't You Testify?

By Sandy Fitzgerald

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius‘ refusal to testify on Obamacare before the House Budget Committee is “raising serious questions” about the administration’s “commitment to transparency and accountability,” committee chairman Paul Ryan says.

The Wisconsin Republican, who has called on Sebelius to resign, planned to send a letter to Sebelius Wednesday asking for her cooperation. But it won’t be his first written request to the secretary, reports Politico, which obtained a copy of his latest letter on Tuesday.

Ryan said he plans to release several letters dating back to Aug. 15 that show a pattern of Sebelius refusing to testify before his committee on the progress of implementing the healthcare reform law.

“Your continued silence on these important inquiries after refusing to testify raises serious questions about the administration’s commitment to transparency and accountability,” Ryan tells Sebelius in his latest letter.

In the Aug. 15 letter, he asked her to appear before his committee on Sept. 11, but her staff said she was unavailable, reports Fox News.

A week later, on Aug. 22, Ryan asked her for an organizational chart of Obamacare implementation efforts, offices involved, number of full-time employees working on it, and all relevant spending items.

He asked for the list by Sept. 11, but it never came, according to Fox.

Ryan, a strong opponent of Obamacare, has called for Sebelius’ resignation in the aftermath of the HealthCare.gov website crash and its continued problems, which still are preventing most Americans who visit the site from enrolling for insurance coverage.

The government has spent at least $394 million to build the online federal insurance-exchange marketplace, and President Barack Obama has promised to resolve the problems by bringing in some of the nation’s top computer-tech experts.

As Budget Committee chairman, Ryan wants to know how much additional money the administration plans to spend on the so-called “tech surge” to fix HealthCare.gov.

Sebelius, meanwhile, plans to appear next week before multiple committees on Capitol Hill, HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters told Politico Tuesday.

As for Ryan’s demands that she appear back in September, Peters said her boss was unavailable on the dates Ryan had requested her to appear, but is working to supply the committee with the information he requested.

Sebelius also is under fire from other Republicans for reported plans to skip a congressional hearing Thursday on problems with the Obamacare website to attend an event in Boston focused on mental illness.

Sebelius has not testified before Ryan’s committee since June 2011, but has made frequent appearances before other congressional panels, including the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee. Altogether, according to Politico, she has testified on Capitol Hill nine times this year.

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

IRS Scandal Could Boost Tax Reform Efforts.


The storm engulfing the Internal Revenue Service could provide a boost for lawmakers who want to simplify U.S. tax laws — a code that is so complicated many Americans buy commercial software to help them or simply hire someone else to do it all.

Members of Congress from both political parties say the current uproar — over the targeting of conservative political groups — underscores that overly complex tax provisions have given the IRS too much discretion in interpreting and enforcing the law.

“This is the perfect example of why we need tax reform,” said Republican Rep. Tim Griffin of Arkansas, a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. “If you want to diminish and limit the power of the IRS, you have got to reduce the complexity of the tax code and take them out of it.”

There are still formidable obstacles to completing a major tax overhaul this year or next. Democrats and Republicans start off with opposite views on whether the government should levy more taxes and on who should pay what share. The two sides also don’t trust one another, making it difficult to envision agreement on which popular tax breaks to keep and which to scrap.

In a report earlier this year, national taxpayer advocate Nina E. Olson ranked complexity as the most serious problem facing both taxpayers and the IRS. People simply trying to comply with the rules often make inadvertent errors and overpay or underpay, she said, while others “often find loopholes that enable them to reduce or eliminate their tax liabilities.”

The IRS scandal has little, if anything, to do with most everyday taxpayers, yet some lawmakers hope the attention will help galvanize support for the first major tax overhaul since 1986.

A little over two weeks ago, the IRS revealed that agents assigned to a special team in Cincinnati had targeted tea party and other conservative groups for additional, often burdensome scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status. The targeting lasted more than 18 months during the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns, hindering the groups’ ability to raise money, according to a report by the agency’s inspector general.

The ensuing storm has cost two top IRS officials their jobs, and a third has been placed on paid administrative leave. Investigations by Congress and the Justice Department are underway.

The IRS was screening the groups’ applications because agents were trying to determine their level of political activity. IRS regulations say that tax-exempt social welfare organizations can engage in some political activity but the activity cannot be their primary mission. It is a vague standard that agents struggled to apply, according to the inspector general’s report.

Lawmakers in both parties have complained for years that overtly political groups on the left and right have taken advantage of the rules, allowing them to claim tax-exempt status and hide the identities of their donors.

“There are countless political organizations at both ends of the spectrum masquerading as social welfare groups in order to skirt the tax code,” said Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “Once the smoke of the current controversy clears, we need to examine the root of this issue and reform the nation’s vague tax laws pertaining to these groups.”

Baucus’ counterpart in the House, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, said he, too, thinks the scandal could boost efforts to simplify the tax code.

“The complexity of the law didn’t require the IRS to target people for their political beliefs,” said Camp, a Michigan Republican. But, he added, “I think giving the IRS less discretion is going to be important, and that’s what a simplified code would do.”

Camp and Baucus have been working for months on the herculean task of simplifying a tax code that has undergone about 5,000 changes since 2001. At nearly 4 million words, Camp likes to say the code is “10 times the size of the Bible with none of the good news.”

Their committees have held dozens of hearings over the past two years and the two chairmen have started a website, taxreform.gov, where they solicit ideas from readers on how to change the laws. Camp has created bipartisan working groups of Ways and Means committee members to develop options for simplifying the various sections of the tax code. He has published several preliminary proposals.

Some Republicans hope to use an upcoming debate over increasing the federal government’s borrowing authority to trigger action on tax change. The government is expected to reach the limit of its borrowing authority by early fall, raising the possibility of another debt standoff like the one in 2011 that brought it to the brink of default.

Details are fluid, but congressional aides have been working on mechanisms to streamline the process of passing a tax package, in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, perhaps guaranteeing floor votes on bills approved by the tax-writing committees in the House and Senate. Camp and Baucus chair those committees.

President Barack Obama, however, has said he won’t negotiate over raising the debt ceiling.

Obama has called for an overhaul of corporate taxes, and he laid some groundwork to accomplish that in his latest budget proposal. The president has also said he wants to do comprehensive tax reform as part of a broad budget deal that cuts spending and reformulates entitlement programs. Such a grand bargain has proven elusive.

Camp and Baucus say they are open to a process that links tax reform to the debt ceiling. But Baucus warns, “I don’t want to be part of something that’s political or partisan. But I do want to be part of something that’s practical and pragmatic that looks like it’s going to advance the ball.”

Baucus, who has been in the Senate since 1978, announced in April he won’t run for re-election in 2014. He said he will focus much of his remaining time in the Senate trying to steer a tax package through Congress.

Camp says he is committed to passing a tax bill out of his committee by the end of the year. There is no guarantee the full House would take up the bill, but Speaker John Boehner has signaled his support for the effort by reserving the prestigious bill number HR 1 for a tax overhaul measure.

Lawmakers in both parties are convinced that simpler, easier-to-understand tax laws would spur economic activity. But there are significant partisan differences.

The Republican recipe calls for reducing or eliminating tax breaks that benefit targeted taxpayers, and using all the additional revenue to reduce overall rates for everyone. At the end of the day, the tax system would raise about the same amount of money, but businesses could focus on being more efficient instead of trying to take advantage of targeted tax breaks, supporters say.

Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress also want to reduce or eliminate various tax breaks. Overall income tax rates would be lower, but the wealthy would pay more each year because they would lose certain exemptions, deductions and credits.

Choosing which tax breaks to scale back is a big hurdle. For all of the work Camp and Baucus have done building support for the idea of tax reform, they have yet to answer hard questions about which breaks to scrap.

That’s because Americans like their credits, deductions and exemptions — the provisions that make the tax law so complicated in the first place. In exchange for lower tax rates, would workers be willing to pay taxes on employer-provided health benefits or on contributions to their retirement plans? How would homeowners feel about losing the mortgage interest deduction?

Those are among the three biggest tax breaks in the tax code, according to congressional estimates. Together, they are projected to save taxpayers nearly $300 billion this year.

“We’re going to have to come to that,” Baucus said. “Those are very big important questions and we’re going to tackle them.”

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: NEWSmax.com

Top Democrats Balk on Special Prosecutor for IRS Scandal.


By Audrey Hudson

Key Democrats are rejecting calls for a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS scandal that has dogged the Obama White House, insisting that two weeks of unfolding details, congressional hearings and forced resignations have not allowed them enough time to study the issue.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat whose committee held one of the hearings, told The Hill there is not enough evidence to warrant a special prosecutor.

Such an appointment could make the probe metastasize into something unwieldy, argued Rep. Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat who sits on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Democrat Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, a member of the House leadership, said lawmakers should first exhaust Congress’s investigative power before calling for a special prosecutor.

The tax-collecting agency is under the microscope for targeting tea party and other conservative groups with questionable scrutiny and has forced the resignation of the acting IRS chief and administrative action against Lois Lerner after her appearance before a House panel last week.

“I haven’t seen anything yet that would make me think that we need to take this to a special prosecutor. Period,” said Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House oversight panel.

Democrats are blaming the matter on clumsy management of applications that conservative groups filed for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status, but say they are still angry with how the IRS responded to lawmakers concerns.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Baucus: IRS Targeting Conservatives was Intolerable.


A leading Senate Democrat says the Internal Revenue Service‘s targeting of conservative groups was intolerable, and he is promising to get to the bottom of how it happened.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus made his remark Tuesday as his panel began Congress‘ second hearing on the extra scrutiny the IRS gave tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

Related: Former IRS Commissioner Heads to Hill amid Scandal

The Montana Democrat says his committee will follow the facts wherever they lead.

Scheduled to testify to Congress for the first time was former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, who headed the agency for most of the period when it was improperly focusing on the conservative groups.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: NEWSmax.com

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