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Why Fast-Tracking Tax Reform Matters (It’s Not What You Think)

July 27, 2012

Next week House Republicans are expected to pass an extension of the Bush tax cuts that includes a measure to fast-track comprehensive tax reform next year — an idea that some lawmakers dismiss as just another legislative gimmick.

But that misses the more important point, largely that Republicans are locking down a path to tax reform should they take over Congress next year.

I write in this week’s National Journal magazine:

The House is expected to vote next week on legislation that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts through 2013 and lay the groundwork for comprehensive tax reform. The bill has almost no chance of passing in the Senate, so many insiders see it as political messaging rather than substantive policy. But that view misses a larger, more important point–namely, how closely House and Senate Republicans are working together to make tax reform happen should they control both chambers next year.

Nothing better exemplifies the unusual level of teamwork among the GOP’s congressional leaders than the House’s legislation to fast-track comprehensive tax reform next year. The expedited process would give a reform bill a clear path to the House floor. But more important is what it would do in the Senate. The debate on tax reform could begin and relevant amendments could be offered on the Senate floor, all with a simple majority vote. Opponents could not use a filibuster to prevent the measure from being considered. As a hedge against Democrats’ retaining control of the Senate, the legislation would still require 60 votes to end debate and set up a final vote.

But the mere fact that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., never one to let the House influence the workings of the upper chamber, and House leaders worked together on an end run around Senate procedure is an indication of how seriously congressional Republicans are taking tax reform. “Leader McConnell will support the House bill and will urge [Majority Leader Harry] Reid to pass the measure when it comes to the Senate,” spokesman John Ashbrook said.


But even if Republicans fail to capture the Senate, fast track may have a future. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., told National Journal, “I’m very interested” in an expedited process. “It’s on the table…. Some process to encourage us to enact tax reform will help.”

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