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January 25, 2023

What to expect in Washington (January 25)

Uncertainty over how lawmakers will address the federal debt limit that was hit on January 19 continues to be a main focus in Washington. President Biden said January 20 he planned to meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to discuss the issue, though specific plans have not been announced. Politico reported January 23 that Senate Republicans view the issue as one for their House counterparts to solve, then get the necessary votes of nine Republican senators despite raw feelings from members who had concerns with the $1.7 trillion year-end 2022 omnibus bill. "What matters is really what the House can create," said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) in the report. "They're in a position, they have the gavels. We have to see what sort of strategy they think works to a successful outcome."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) punctuated that sentiment during his remarks following the regular Tuesday party lunches. "I can't imagine any kind of debt ceiling measure that could pass the Senate would also pass the House. So even though the debt ceiling could originate in either the House or the Senate, in this current situation, the debt ceiling fix … will have to come out of the House," he said. "So, I think it's entirely reasonable for the new speaker and his team to put spending reductions on the table. I wish him well in talking to the president. That's where a solution lies."

The Washington Post reported January 24, "House Republicans have started to weigh a series of legislative proposals targeting Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, part of a broader campaign to slash federal spending … " The report said regarding Republican plans to leverage support for addressing the debt limit to achieve spending cuts, "the party has focused its attention on slimming down federal health care, education, science and labor programs, perhaps by billions of dollars. But some Republicans also have pitched a deeper examination of entitlements … In recent days, a group of GOP lawmakers has called for the creation of special panels that might recommend changes to Social Security and Medicare, which face genuine solvency issues that could result in benefit cuts within the next decade. Others in the party have resurfaced more detailed plans to cut costs, including by raising the Social Security retirement age to 70, targeting younger Americans who have yet to obtain federal benefits."

The President hosted Democratic congressional leaders at the White House January 24 and said, "We got a lot done in the last couple years, and we got a lot more to do … " The President said the leaders wanted to talk about "the extreme Republican economic plans. Apparently, they're genuinely serious about cutting Social Security, cutting Medicare … But, look, I have no intention of letting the Republicans wreck our economy, nor does anybody around this table, in my view."

Regarding the President's comments that he would meet with Speaker McCarthy to discuss the debt limit, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said January 24, "I don't have a meeting to announce from here with Speaker McCarthy … This is something that the President is certainly looking forward to."

Tax — President Biden continues to cite the Fair Tax Act (H.R. 25) sponsored by Rep. Earl "Buddy" Carter (R-GA), which Speaker McCarthy committed to bringing to a House vote in this Congress, in drawing political contrasts between Democrats and Republicans. The bill would abolish the IRS, eliminate the national income tax, and replace it with a national consumption tax, and also eliminate estate, gift, and payroll taxes. Axios reported January 23 that the President will deliver an address in Springfield, VA, on Thursday "spotlighting fringe economic proposals championed by House Republicans, including a controversial bill to abolish the IRS and replace it with a 30% national sales tax."

Some Republicans have already expressed concern about a potential House vote on the Fair Tax proposal. "This is a political gift to Biden and the Democrats," Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said in a January 18 Semafor report. An editorial in the January 21 Wall Street Journal said the bill "won't become law but will give Democrats a potent campaign issue." The editorial said, "The tax issue is a rare GOP advantage these days, and Republicans would be crazy to squander it with a Fair Tax vote. If Mr. Carter and other supporters insist on a masochistic vote, the GOP could invoke the Freedom Caucus's demand for 'regular order' and kill the Fair Tax in the Ways and Means Committee."

President Biden took aim at the bill January 12, soon after Speaker McCarthy's agreement with backers was announced, and said again January 24, facetiously, "I love their 30% sales tax."

Today at the D.C. Bar 2023 Tax Legislative and Regulatory Update Conference is a "Ways and Means Roundtable: What Does the Future Hold for U.S. Tax Policy," with at least one member of the Committee, Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK), set to participate.

Bills of interest from January 23:

  • Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), S. 8., to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to expand eligibility for the refundable credit for coverage under a qualified health plan, to improve cost-sharing subsidies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
  • Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), S. 17, to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to require that return information from tax-exempt organizations be made available in a searchable format and to provide the disclosure of the identity of contributors to certain tax-exempt organizations.
  • Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN), S. 26, to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to repeal the amendments made to reporting of third-party network transactions by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

Congress — Bloomberg Government reported January 24, "New Senate committee rosters are being held up as lawmakers attempt to win waivers for more than one senator per state to sit on powerful committees." The focus is on the Judiciary Committee. "There's an issue around this question of whether or not to do members on the same committee," Senator John Thune (R-SD) said. "We're going to work through that tomorrow. But I think we're very close to having an organizing resolution that will allocate or assign committees."


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For additional information concerning this Alert, please contact:
Washington Council Ernst & Young
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