Tax Plays Minor Role as GOP Tax Writers Face Close Races

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By Laura Davison, Aaron Lorenzo and Kaustuv Basu

Oct. 20 — It’s not easy to be a Republican this election cycle—especially for three congressional tax writers.

Sens. Richard M. Burr (R-N.C.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) and Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.)—all relatively junior members of their respective tax-writing committees—are facing tough races. While their campaigns and constituencies have little in common, tax policy is playing a minor role as they try to hold their seats.

Losses by all three could create voids in efforts to boost student loan and disabled care tax credits, as well as in the fight against the tax on medical devices.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) have sought to help their members in precarious positions by steering clear of roll call votes on controversial issues and allowing the lawmakers to sponsor legislation that plays well back home, tax lobbyists and a Republican aide told Bloomberg BNA. Other tax-writing committee members, Reps. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.), are also running in close elections, but Republicans have an advantage in those races.

The two Republican Finance Committee members and one Ways and Means Republican are also at odds about how to handle presidential nominee Donald Trump. Burr endorses him, Dold doesn’t and Toomey hasn’t clearly stated his position. “There is a realization they can do everything right, be on the right side of all the issues for the state, and they still may not be victorious,” a Republican lobbyist, speaking on background to protect client sensitivities, told Bloomberg BNA. “They can run a great race and have a great strategy and the top of the ticket will still kill them.”

Sen. Toomey

In Pennsylvania, Toomey’s race against challenger Katie McGinty has been framed as a no-tax-increase, Wall Street-friendly incumbent versus a state government insider with middle-class appeal and a history of supporting tax increases, according to two political strategists. Toomey has a slim 0.4 percent lead, according to a Real Clear Politics polling average from the first two weeks of October.

“McGinty has been attacking Toomey saying he works for Wall Street,” said Ed Mitchell, a political strategist who works with Pennsylvania Democrats. “Toomey hasn’t come up with a rebuttal for that.”

McGinty’s campaign is running ads featuring a 2007 clip of Toomey saying he doesn’t support the idea of corporate taxes. Toomey has countered that claim, saying that McGinty supported billions of new taxes during her tenure in the governor’s office, said Christopher Nicholas, a political consultant for Pennsylvania Republicans.

“My opponent has consistently supported higher taxes on the middle class at every chance she’s had, and she had several,” Toomey told Bloomberg BNA in September. “I’m an advocate for lower taxes and tax reform.”

Both candidates are calling each other millionaires, but the usual discussion about tax policy hasn’t come up much this election as presidential personalities have dominated the discourse, Nicholas said. Toomey has kept Trump at arm’s length during the campaign.

Toomey, a former bond trader, is one of the more “well studied” members on the Finance Committee, another Republican lobbyist said.

“He is a big proponent of expensing—the more rapid the cost recovery, the better,” the lobbyist said.

Beyond small business expensing under tax code Section 179, Toomey generally has opposed targeted tax breaks and higher taxes, but is lesser known for what he supports.

“Toomey is more about saying no than saying yes,” the first lobbyist told Bloomberg BNA.

Toomey has vocally and publicly fought against the medical device tax, the senator’s office said in an e-mail. The tax, included as a revenue raiser in the Affordable Care Act, hasn’t been permanently repealed but was suspended through 2017 as part of last year’s end-of-the-year spending deal.

Sen. Burr

Burr has concentrated on health, child care and student loan issues since joining the committee in 2011.

“Burr is not a thought leader on the committee,” the first lobbyist told Bloomberg BNA. “But he does get involved in some things and stands in the way of some things he” opposes.

Burr hasn’t made an imprint in the tax policy arena, possibly because he is preoccupied with other policy matters on the Hill, the second lobbyist said, noting that Burr is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Burr’s race against Deborah Ross, a former head of the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina, wasn’t expected to be a contentious one. The race became more hotly contested as Ross gained support stemming from voter discontent about a law passed in the Republican-majority state Legislature that required transgender people to use a bathroom consistent with their birth sex.

Ross has sought to paint Burr as easy on big businesses by running ads saying he has voted against measures that would stop tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.

Burr accuses Ross of using her position as a North Carolina House member to implement historic renovation tax credits that she was then able to use to reduce or eliminate her tax liability. Burr has said he will release his tax returns if Ross releases hers.

“This is to determine whether she paid little or no income taxes as a result of the tax credits she championed,” Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for Burr’s campaign, told Bloomberg BNA. “She and her spokespeople have refused to answer definitely as to whether there were some years she paid zero income taxes because of these credits.”

Burr has a 1.8 percent lead over Ross, according to a Real Clear Politics poll average from Oct. 10-14.

“Many people would say he has not run a great campaign,” the first lobbyist said. “He doesn’t appear to be trying that hard.”

On the committee, the most prominent piece of legislation Burr has sponsored is the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act in 2014, which created tax-favored savings plans for individuals with disabilities.

“The six primary champions of the bill, including Burr, are still in Congress, still supporting it and offering active amendments to increase the benefits,” Chris Rodriguez, the senior public policy adviser for the National Disability Institute, told Bloomberg BNA. “This is indicative of his continued support for people with disabilities.”

Burr also worked to stop legislation earlier this year that would regulate paid tax return preparers. The legislation was unpopular among small tax preparers, often located in small towns, according to the lobbyist.

While Burr’s work has focused mostly on the individual side of the tax code and those issues haven’t come up much on the campaign trail, Burr told Bloomberg BNA that he sees a need to improve the international side of the code.

“We need to get corporate tax reform and make us competitive with the rest of the world,” Burr said.

Rep. Dold

The race for Dold’s seat in the northern Chicago suburbs is again a close one. Dold first won the seat in 2010, lost it in 2012 and won it back in 2014. As a representative from a moderate-to-left-leaning district, Dold has spent his year and half on the Ways and Means Committee supporting provisions to invest in low-income houses and communities, establish tuition assistance incentives for businesses as well as the research and development credit and Section 179 expensing.

Taxes haven’t been a high priority for this group of suburban voters, Pat Brady, a former chairman for the Illinois Republican Party, told Bloomberg BNA.

But unlike Pennsylvania and North Carolina, Illinois isn’t a swing state. Because presidential candidates don’t visit the state much, Dold is insulated from some of the unpredictability tied to Trump, Brady said. The campaigns of both Dold and his opponent, Brad Schneider, have released polls this month that show their candidate up by as much as seven points. The race is a toss-up, according to the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report.

Dold told Bloomberg BNA that voters in his district are interested in a business tax overhaul. His district is home to more Fortune 500 companies than any other district, but also has pockets with high unemployment, which means that changes targeted at small and large businesses are needed, he said.

Dold’s relatively short tenure on the committee and competitive district means that he is given some of the popular pieces of legislation to sponsor. One bill he spearheaded—to exempt Olympic and Paralympic athletes from tax on their winnings—was signed into law earlier this month.

Dold hasn’t been on the committee long enough to make an imprint, the second tax lobbyist said. “It is a lot harder to do in Ways and Means right off the bat,” the lobbyist said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Laura Davison at lDavison@bna.com, Aaron Lorenzo at aaron@bna.com and Kaustuv Basu at kbasu@bna.com, in Washington.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Meg Shreve at mshreve@bna.com

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