Extending tax breaks priority for new Senate Finance Chairman

But Democrat says major changes for individuals and businesses unlikely this year

Feb 17, 2014 @ 10:19 am

Extending U.S. tax credits and deductions is a priority for new Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, even as he indicates there won't be any major tax changes for individuals or businesses this year.

“My hope is that we can get them re-enacted promptly,” Mr. Wyden said in an interview, his first since becoming chairman. “Then use them as a bridge to more comprehensive reform.”

Yet Mr. Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, suggested broader tax code changes won't happen soon. Republicans and Democrats are lowering expectations of passing major legislation before the November elections that will determine control of Congress for President Barack Obama's final two years in office.

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“We've got a big challenge of bringing people together,” Mr. Wyden said.

Mr. Wyden, 64, indicated support for a rule proposed by the Internal Revenue Service, and opposed by House Republicans, that could limit political spending from outside groups officially classified as non-profit social welfare organizations.

Mr. Wyden and Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are sponsoring what they consider “even-Steven” legislation requiring all groups spending money on politics — including those with 501(c)(4) status — to disclose their donors. The change would include groups that support Republican and Democratic candidates.

Mr. Wyden, confirmed last Wednesday as finance chairman, also suggested support for a lawsuit from Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, last week claiming that U.S. electronic surveillance of telecommunications is illegal.

“It is unconstitutional to collect millions and millions of phone records on law-abiding Americans,” Mr. Wyden said. “It violates the Fourth Amendment.”

While Mr. Obama supports simplifying the corporate tax code ahead of any changes for individual taxpayers, Mr. Wyden said that would be a “challenge.”

“It is very hard to bite off just one piece of it,” Mr. Wyden said.

Mr. Wyden said he prefers that an extension of about 50 tax breaks that expired last year be accomplished as part of a broader tax-code revision. That goal for broader revisions was being pursued by the previous finance chairman, Max Baucus of Montana, who was confirmed last week as U.S. ambassador to China.

PRIMARY ISSUE

“The reality is, when the House leadership last November, in effect, declared that Obamacare was their primary issue, that changed the timetable,” Mr. Wyden said. “I am not going to sacrifice important matters like research and development and innovation on the altar of perhaps some inaction on comprehensive reform.”

Mr. Wyden also said he would like individuals' tax payments to “get closer to parity between income from investment and income from wages.” He backed tax code revisions in 2010 that included repealing the alternative minimum tax and exempting the first 35% of capital gains and dividends from taxes.

(Bloomberg News)

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