Wyden lays out Senate tax priorities

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, who is chairing the Senate Finance Committee now that Democrats have won control of the Senate, described some of his policy priorities, including the tax area where his committee has oversight.

“Obviously, there’s no sugarcoating it,” he said during a press conference Wednesday. “The country faces unprecedented challenges. And on top of the longstanding challenges, like the pandemic, the economic crisis and the strained democracy, we’ve got to fix the broken Tax Code, lower health care costs, starting with prescriptions, move toward a carbon free future and rebuild our infrastructure. The Finance Committee is at the center of all of these issues.”

He said his first priority would be additional economic relief for millions of struggling families, starting with $2,000 stimulus payments and enhanced unemployment benefits, pointing out that Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had insisted on extending the enhanced benefits only through March 14. Now that McConnell will no longer be Senate majority leader, and Chuck Schumer, D- New York, will be in control, Wyden hopes to extend enhanced benefits further into the year.

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon

Chris Goodney/Bloomberg

“Vaccinations are going more slowly than projected,” said Wyden. “The Biden administration is certainly going to speed that up, but the country is not going to be back to normal by March, so it’s going to be important to extend the weekly boost, make sure there are additional weeks of benefits and programs for the self-employed and workers. I want everyone to know that I’m going to push with every bit of my energy to make sure there are triggers to tie benefits to economic conditions so that the Senate doesn’t need to come back and revisit these issues every few months.”

Over the long term, he would like to increase the base benefits for the unemployed so they can pay for their essential needs, and ensure that all workers can get those benefits on a permanent basis, while improving technology and administration at the state level to minimize disparities among the different states. “While the $600 weekly boost was a resounding success, getting benefits actually out the door in Oregon and many other states has been a challenge,” said Wyden. “There’s a lot of work to do to help the states on administration.”

After Congress and the Biden administration address these short-term economic relief relief measures, Wyden hopes to start rebuilding the economy and reforming the individual and corporate tax laws.

“That has to start with fixing the broken Tax Code and requiring millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share,” said Wyden. “Since last September. I’ve been working on my proposal to reform the taxation of capital gains for the top 0.3 percent of taxpayers by equalizing the tax rates for wage and capital income, and minimizing the benefits of deferring taxes. If you are a nurse in America taking care of COVID patients, you don’t get to defer paying your taxes. If you’re a billionaire, you can defer, defer and defer some more and then pretty much never pay any taxes at all. I intend to put a stop to that by ending the ability of the wealthy to pay what they want when they want, to preserve the Social Security system for decades to come and earn additional revenue for other priorities.”

He argued that if the country’s 600 billionaires paid taxes on the nearly $1 trillion they made this year, it would cover $1,000 checks for every family that gets relief payments.

Wyden also hopes to reform the tax laws related to the energy sector to deal with climate change and achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2035. He pointed to a bill he has introduced called the Clean Energy for America Act that would consolidate the 44 current separate energy provisions into three emissions-based incentives that would encourage clean electricity, clean transportation and clean energy. “I’m also working to reform energy taxes so that polluters are discouraged from harming our environment,” Wyden added. “If you look at the history of environmental regulation, too often it has been regressive, and it is critically important to make sure that working families come out better in a greener economy.”

On the corporate tax front, Wyden wants to roll back the corporate tax breaks in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. “The principles on corporate taxes should be that big corporations pay their fair share, with disincentives to ship jobs overseas, and reward companies that invest in America and its workers,” said Wyden. “I also want to address the many problems with the structure for taxing multinational corporations created in the Republicans’ 2017 bill. I’ve been working on a framework for corporate taxes. We will be showing that fairly shortly.”

He also hopes to help small businesses that have been hurt by the 2017 tax law and closed by the pandemic. “The past year has worsened existing inequities for minority-owned businesses, said Wyden. “The existing tax incentives don’t give these folks a fair shake, so I’m going to push for tax policies particularly designed to help small businesses in communities of color and help them recruit third-party capital.”

On the individual tax front, he plans to focus on rolling back tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires such as the carried interest loophole to ensure that small business deductions reach Main Street entrepreneurs rather than investors.

“I feel very strongly about reforming the Tax Code so it better supports working families, reduces child poverty, and addresses systematic racism,” said Wyden. “You can do that with the Earned Income Tax Credit, making the Child Tax Credit fully refundable and expanding the Child and Dependent Care Credit.”

Wyden also wants to steer more money to the Internal Revenue Service to crack down on tax evasion. “That will require rebuilding the IRS,” he said. “A decade of Republican budget cuts and political attacks on the IRS have crippled the agency’s enforcement ability, allowing wealthy tax cheats to steal from the public. Ensuring that the IRS is funding staff to implement these policies is right at the top of our priority list. We’ve got to crack down on those who refuse to pay. That’s critically important.”

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