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May 14, 2015
Finance Working Group on Individual Taxation Narrows Focus
by Stephen K. Cooper and Luca Gattoni-Celli

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The Senate Finance Committee's individual income tax working group has agreed to focus its efforts on four major areas, including education, charity, and homeownership incentives and tax administration, the group's co-chair, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said following a May 13 group meeting.

According to Grassley's prepared remarks, the agreement to narrow the focus followed a broad overview of the individual tax structure -- from the standard deduction, tax rates, and alternative minimum tax to personal exemption phaseouts and the limitation on itemized deductions.

Although the working group, co-chaired by Grassley and Sens. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has narrowed its focus, the lawmakers have not reached a consensus on the homeownership incentives, a Grassley staffer said.

During roundtable discussions earlier this spring, which included input from industry stakeholders and policy specialists, no group offered up its tax expenditures for the purpose of rate reduction or increasing revenue, Grassley said.

Thomas Barthold, Joint Committee on Taxation chief of staff, met with the working group to explain recommendations the group is considering, Grassley told reporters following the meeting. Stabenow told reporters that "there are some areas where we can do positive things."

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told Tax Analysts that the Finance Committee's working group on international taxation, which he co-chairs with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is working on a final report that may be finished in the coming weeks.

"We are working on a report now. We've already reported orally to the [full committee] -- that was last week -- and now we're working on a report," Portman said. "It won't be ready next week, I don't think. We're close on a deal. It's a matter of weeks." Lawmakers have not yet decided whether the report will be made public.

The Finance Committee's tax reform working group meetings came as members of the House Ways and Means Committee said the tax panel would shift its focus to tax reform and highway funding in the coming week. Following the weekly Ways and Means GOP luncheon, committee members David G. Reichert, R-Wash., and Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said lawmakers will turn their attention to tax reform following the coming House votes on trade legislation, which is pending in the Senate.

Ways and Means Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will advance tax reform this session, Brady said. "The question is how, what steps do we take, and how far can we go. There's not a week we're not talking about tax reform, internally within the committee," he said.

Brady said he was deeply involved in the energy tax reform plans, hoping to find areas that would boost job creation, but that he wasn't drafting a separate piece of legislation. "Chairman Ryan is making tax reform his signature issue. He's encouraging members to be engaged either in ideas for overall reform or areas they want to make the code more pro-growth," Brady said.

Follow Stephen K. Cooper (@scoop1200) and Luca Gattoni-Celli (@TheGattoniCelli) on Twitter for real-time updates.

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