House GOP Working Groups Sort Through Key Tax Issues

Ideas expected soon that could be included in tax legislation

Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., is pushing for tax measures to help small producers of oil and gas (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady is trying to avoid potential hurdles on the House GOP’s tax overhaul with the help of about five informal working groups of Republican tax writers, who are weighing whether to retain or reshape a number of items important to businesses and investors.

Brady, R-Texas, said he wants the working groups to deliver ideas soon that could be included in tax legislation. They are sorting through issues related to retirement savings, financial products, energy, education and pass-through businesses, such as S corporations and partnerships, whose owners pay individual tax rates on profits.

“They are just accelerating the decision points. They will have a short life. They are bringing us back the final options . . . on a couple areas of the blueprint,” Brady told CQ Roll Call, referring to the House GOP tax plan.

Participants said the working groups have been led by staff without formal chairmen, since being organized in response to questions raised at the Ways and Means GOP retreat at the Library of Congress last month. Lawmakers said the main work product would be ideas that would be provided to Brady and the full committee, and that they do not expect to submit written reports.

“We’re getting close. We have the key elements to it. They have been in place for some time,” Brady said.

In the education working group, interim House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black, R-Tenn., said she was pushing to preserve college savings 529 plans and examining potential tweaks. “There’s a discussion about the 529s and whether they could be used for something other than higher education,” she said.

In the energy working group, Rep, Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., said she was pushing for measures to help small producers of oil and gas. Other lawmakers are promoting incentives for renewable energy, including a renewal of an investment tax credit for fuel cells and geothermal energy that expired at the end of 2016.

In the pass-through business working group, Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., said he is trying to promote his proposal that would prevent earnings of pass-through businesses from being taxed at a higher rate than the corporate tax rate. Buchanan, a car dealer before his election to Congress, sponsored similar legislation last session.

The Buchanan proposal is aimed at closing a gap in the House GOP tax plan, which calls for a 20 percent corporate rate, down from 35 percent, and a new 25 percent rate for owners of pass-through businesses. House Republicans also set a new top individual rate of 33 percent.

Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., said that the rate target for small business owners and other issues related to pass-through businesses were being aired. “There’s a lot of moving pieces,” Reichert said.

[Brady Vows 'Relentless' Tax Overhaul Drive]

Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., who is an accountant, said he was trying to push for tax simplification and clarification for these business owners. “Too often in Washington, we focus on these big, multinational companies. We’ve got to make sure we don’t overlook small businesses,” Rice said.

In the financial products working group, Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., said a number of sticky issues were being discussed, including requirements for updated fair market valuations, also known as mark-to-market requirements, of certain investments. As part of a 2014 tax blueprint, then-Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan expanded these requirements, including a mandate for periodic fair market value estimates for certain investments.

“The tax code has taken this kind of hodge-podge approach in legislating on financial products. What I’m trying to do is to harmonize those principles and harmonize the issues, things like mark-to-market,” Reed said.

In the retirement savings working group, several lawmakers said they were examining the future of individual retirement accounts and other savings incentives.

Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, and other lawmakers said the working groups offer a chance to hear useful presentations by aides, even though they were not as formal or as long-lasting as working groups established by Camp in the 113th Congress.

“I’m just trying to learn as much about the bill in the working groups as I can as we go along, so that I can explain it better,” Marchant said.

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