Want to change tax policy? Two powerful senators want to hear from you

Senate leaders are asking the public to add their ideas for overhauling the code to the bipartisan debate

Mar 11, 2015 @ 1:21 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Investment advisers and brokers have no shortage of opinions on tax policy. Now they can share their thoughts with two lawmakers who will be instrumental in reforming the code.

On Wednesday, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., ranking member on the panel, began soliciting the public for ideas about how to overhaul the tax code.

They are seeking comment from individuals, businesses and interest groups by April 15. The feedback must be submitted as a pdf attachment in an email to one of five committee working groups: individual income tax (individual@finance.senate.gov), business income tax (business@finance.senate.gov), savings and investment (savings@finance.senate.gov), international tax (international@finance.senate.gov) and community development and infrastructure (communitydevelopment@finance.seante.gov).

“By opening up our bipartisan working groups to public input, we hope to gain a greater understanding of how tax policy affects individuals, businesses and civic groups across our nation,” Mr. Hatch and Mr. Wyden said in a statement.

Former congressional aides said the lawmakers and committee staff will listen to the responses, and what will likely catch their ear are new voices and new perspectives.

“This is a golden opportunity for taxpayers interested in tax reform,” said Marc Gerson, a partner at Miller & Chevalier and a former Republican tax counsel on the House Ways & Means Committee. “The working group process, the hearings and all the taxpayer comments will really influence and frame what a future Senate Finance Committee tax-reform package looks like.”

“The committee is most interested in hearing from people who don't normally come forward,” said Dean Zerbe, national managing director of alliantgroup and former Republican tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee. “It's really an opportunity for people who are not having their voices heard, who don't have the big lobbying shops working for them.”

It's not enough for respondents simply to complain about taxes, the former Hill staffers said. It's best to write a brief and specific letter.

“More important than being concise is being thoughtful from a policy and technical perspective,” Mr. Gerson said. “Tying the benefits [of a particular tax change] to the economy, to job creation, is very, very important.”

Committee staff and lawmakers need to know the daily impact of the tax code.

“They very much want to understand how things are working in practice,” Mr. Zerbe said.

Mr. Hatch and Mr. Wyden have set an end-of-May deadline for the working groups to make recommendations for tax changes. It's unclear how far tax reform will get done during the current Congress, which concludes in late 2016.

Nearly half of the business executives polled by Miller & Chevalier and the National Foreign Trade Council in January predicted tax reform will be enacted in 2017.

“It's not a question of 'if,' it's a question of 'when,'” Mr. Gerson said.

Lawmakers are likely laying the groundwork for reform that will occur over the next couple years.

“It feels more and more like we're preparing for the next election,” Mr. Zerbe said.

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