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Chairman Bernanke Advocates Tax Reform

Reform Coming in 2011?

By The Children’s Home Society of Florida Foundation

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Chairman of the Federal Reserve [the FED], Ben Bernanke met January 7th 2011 with the Senate Budget Committee. He spoke on the topic of tax reform during 2011. According to sources, Mr. Bernanke noted, “Greater clarity and certainty is obviously beneficial, and to the extent you can create more certainty about where the tax code is going to be over the next couple years, that would be helpful.”

Budget Committee Seems to Agree

Chairman Bernanke and the Senate members of the Budget Committee all noted that with the current weak economy and high level of unemployment, it is a very key year for potentially reforming the tax code. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) joined with Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) to introduce the bipartisan Tax Fairness and Simplification Act of 2010. Sen. Wyden noted, “The big idea for economic growth in our country is fundamental tax reform, where you go in there and clean out this job-killing, thoroughly discredited mess.” Senate Budget Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND) agreed that the tax code “is just completely out of date.” He responded, “It does not take account of the world that we live in today.”

Assessment

In the House, the new Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp (R-MI), also showed interest in tax reform during 2011. He suggested that it will be necessary to “streamline the tax code that today is too costly, too complex and too burdensome for families and employers.”

Editor’s Note: Both House and Senate Finance Leaders will be holding hearings this year on tax reform. Because 2011 is not an election year, it is a potentially good year for major tax reform. As was evident from the tax bill that was signed in December 2010, tax reform will require compromise between the Senate, the House and the White House. However, with the unemployment rate currently at 9.4%, there is now a growing consensus on the need for continued improvements in the tax system in order to reduce unemployment.

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One Response

  1. Senate Starts Tax Reform 2011

    The Senate Finance Committee opened hearings on March 1, 2011 to discuss the topic of general tax reform. Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) started the hearing by recounting the major changes in America between 1980 and 2011.

    He noted that in 1980, “The Berlin Wall was still intact, most business was done using snail mail – except then we just called it, ‘the mail,’ and the concept of derivatives was only familiar in a few, limited markets.” At that time, most of America did not know of the internet, there were very few cell phones except in a few expensive automobiles and the computers were “hundreds of times slower” than today’s models.

    Sen. Baucus then contrasted the past with changes that affect every American today. He noted that “business is usually done using email, the internet and smart-phones.” There are new financial products that led to a major downturn in the economy. Mobile phones are widely used today and have much more power than a 1980 computer.

    Similarly, tax law has changed since 1980. The last comprehensive revision of the Internal Revenue Code was in 1986. Since that time there have been “15,000 changes” in the tax code. Sen. Baucus asks whether we now have “a tax code that is more efficient, competitive and fair?”

    As a result of the complexity and changes in the tax code, most businesses are now created as a subchapter S corporation or LLC. Approximately 94% of businesses operate as “pass-through entities.”

    In the view of Sen. Baucus, the hearings must examine how best to efficiently tax business. There is also a “gap between the taxes owed and the taxes paid” of nearly $300 billion. Congress will need to examine methods to close this tax gap.

    Finally, Sen. Baucus expressed concern about the 141 potential tax extenders each year. He suggests that it is time to reconsider the wisdom of continuing to pass tax extenders each year.

    Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is the Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee. He responded to the opening comments by Senator Baucus with a note of caution. Sen. Hatch quoted the statements by President Obama in his State of the Union Address that called for revenue-neutral corporate taxes and simplification of individual taxes this year. Sen. Hatch agrees that tax reform should be revenue-neutral. In his view, a tax bill could “risk walking down the road to a backdoor tax increase.” If tax simplification and improvements are passed, they should be revenue-neutral and not lead to a major tax increase.

    Editor’s Note: During 2011 there are two major discussions underway in Congress. The 2010 Fiscal Commission proposed addressing the budget deficit with a combination of spending reductions and modest revenue increases. However, the Fiscal Commission suggested that a major overhaul and simplification of both the corporate and individual taxes is in order. As the Senate Finance Committee members noted, when Congress is preparing to eliminate major deductions of either corporations or individual taxpayers, there will be strong opposition. Lowering rates and simplifying the code is much easier in concept than actually writing a new tax bill.

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