Baucus Retirement: New Life for Tax Reform?

Posted on May 8, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

By Scott Orr

max-baucusSen. Max Baucus, the centrist Democrat who has long represented a conservative state, has shed the bonds of party and ideology to better enable him to sculpt his legacy in the form of a sweeping reform of the U.S. tax code.

Baucus, 71, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee announced last week that he will not seek reelection in 2014. The conventional wisdom is that Baucus will now be free to pursue the tax reform package he thinks is right, not the one his party demands.

It’s a goal he shares with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who must relinquish his chair at the end of the current session of Congress.

“I’ll have a lot more time and energy to do it since I don’t have to campaign,” Baucus told reporters, in announcing his retirement.

On K Street, lobbyists are split over what Baucus’ new freedom means for tax reform and their cherished deductions and exemptions.

Baucus and other members of the panel have been working on a tax reform package for more than a year and it could be unveiled within a month or so.

“I’m not turning out to pasture because there is important work left to do, and I intend to spend the year and a half getting it done….At a national level, I will continue to work on simplifying and improving the tax code,” he said.

Calling Baucus a “true legislator,” Camp said he is raring to get going on tax reform.

“Max has made clear that his commitment to comprehensive tax reform that lowers rates and makes the code simpler and fairer for our families and job creators remains a top priority,” Camp said in a statement.

“I couldn’t agree more, and I share his vision for enacting real tax reform this Congress,” he said.

With two powerful lawmakers looking to create tax reform legacies, it would seem the planets are aligned for some historic action, but that oversimplifies things greatly.

First off, being a lame duck may free members from having to toe the party line, but at the same time it reduces their power to prod members to follow them. After all, neither Baucus nor Camp is going to have a powerful committee available to them next year to reward and punish members for their behavior on the issue.

And key staff are likely to bail while they’re still in power, heading to K Street where they will be involved in whatever lingering tax code issues are out there.

And don’t forget the power of K Street itself. Nowhere are lobbyists more active than on issues involving their clients wallets’, like tax policy.

Baucus’ retirement is a blow to centrists thinking on Capitol Hill, of course, but the idea that lame-duck status will somehow free him up to right the tax code’s many wrongs seems a bit overly optimistic.

It might help get a modest reform through, but we’re not expecting the major reform Baucus and his backers envision.

Turner GPA is a leading D.C.-based national lobbying and government affairs firm dedicated to delivering cutting edge policy advocacy for the manufacturing, defense, aerospace, health and energy industries. Members of our professional policy team can be reached at (202) 466-2511. We are also on the Web at www.turnergpa.com.

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