Roberts, Moran vote to advance Brownback-style federal tax reform
U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran of Kansas both voted late Thursday to advance a budget resolution that could pave the way for Congress to enact tax cuts similar to those that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback championed in Kansas in 2012, but which state lawmakers repealed earlier this year.
The measure passed by the narrowest of margins, 51-49, on nearly a straight party line vote. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was the only Republican to vote no on the measure.
By itself, the nonbinding resolution merely lays out a set of budget priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. But its passage would mean that the Senate could next pass a tax bill as part of a "reconciliation" process so it would only need 51 votes to pass, instead of the normal 60 votes needed to close debate on a bill.
"Our tax code is burdensome, confusing and outdated,” Roberts, the senior senator from Kansas, said in a statement following the vote. “There is widespread, bipartisan agreement on the need for tax reform, and I’m pleased the Senate took this important step toward providing tax relief to hardworking Americans. I look forward to continuing our work in the Senate Finance Committee to write a tax bill that allows Kansans to keep more of their hard-earned dollars.”
Moran, the state's junior senator, issued a similar statement.
“Our tax code should work for American families, not against them," he said. "Kansans know how critical tax reform is to their ability to find quality jobs, start small businesses, or pay for household items and utility bills every month. In the more than 30 years since we last passed major tax reform, the national and global economies have changed dramatically. We must adapt as well by establishing a fairer and simpler tax code to empower American individuals to succeed and American businesses to compete."
Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration are backing a tax plan that includes several elements similar to the controversial tax initiatives that Brownback championed in Kansas: reducing the number of tax brackets and lowering rates across the board; closing many income tax loopholes; and greatly reducing — but not eliminating, as Kansas did — income taxes levied against nonwage business income from partnerships, sole proprietorships, limited liability companies and other so-called "pass-through" entities.
As Brownback and his allies did in championing those kinds of cuts in Kansas, Congressional Republicans argue that they will stimulate job growth and economic expansion.
In Kansas, however, which Brownback said would be a "real live experiment" of the tax cut theory, jobs and gross state product lagged behind the rest of the nation while those policies were in place; state government suffered from severe revenue shortfalls that forced deep cuts in spending on highways, health care and education.
During the 2017 session, the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature passed a bill reversing course on those tax policies with two-thirds majorities in both chambers, overriding Brownback's veto of the bill.
The U.S. House has already approved a similar budget resolution, and negotiations were already underway Friday to find a path for the House to agree to the Senate's changes in order to avoid a lengthy conference committee process.
The entire Kansas delegation to the House, including 2nd District Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Topeka, have expressed their support for the general outline of the tax plan.
In an op-ed column for Fox News, however, Jenkins said Congress had learned from the mistakes in Kansas, and that the federal tax reform bill would be different.
"It’s no secret that Kansas made a few mistakes with its tax reform plan," Jenkins wrote. "First of all, they zeroed out the tax rate for pass-through businesses, which is the tax status used for most small businesses, and failed to erect any guardrails to discourage tax avoidance. This created a loophole that allowed some existing businesses and wealthy individuals to avoid paying income taxes altogether by simply reclassifying as a pass-through and thus create a new 'business' without adding any employees."