February 01,2017

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Hatch Unveils Finance Committee Agenda for 115th Congress

In a Speech at U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Utah Senator Says, “We are facing some serious difficulties as a nation, including lackluster economic growth, a crippling national debt, national security challenges, and many others.  I’m not under any illusions that these problems can be solved overnight.  I certainly don’t believe they can all be fixed by a single party or President. I have a long history of working with people both parties to accomplish great things.  And, I want to do more of that in the future and get past the divisiveness we see today.”

WASHINGTON – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) today delivered remarks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce detailing the Committee’s priorities for the 115th Congress.  The remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below.
            “Throughout my time in Washington – almost from the very first day – I have worked with the Chamber to advance policies that will help our economy, and, in a number of cases, to fight against ideas that would slow our economy down.

            I came here to the Chamber – to this very room – two years ago, right after Republicans retook the Senate and I took over as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.  At that time, I remarked that it was an exciting time to be in Washington, particularly if you’re a Republican.  I also made a promise that the Republicans in Congress were not going to waste the opportunity to do good things for the hardworking Americans who put us in charge.

            Today I’m pleased to say that we’ve been able to deliver on that promise.  

            At the start of the 114th Congress, our leadership set an ambitious agenda, one that would demonstrate that Republicans were serious about governing and providing solutions to real problems.  And, we proved that and more.  

            Now, two years later, Republicans have been granted an even greater opportunity to shape the future and improve both the business climate in the United States and the quality of life for American families.  

            It is once again an exciting time to be Republican in Washington.     

            I’m here today to talk about some of these efforts and what is in store for the Senate Finance Committee in the 115th Congress.  Most of the big-ticket items on the immediate horizon fall in our committee’s jurisdiction, so, needless to say, we have quite a bit of work ahead of us.  

            Believe me, the Finance Committee is up to the challenge.

            The first thing I’ll say on tax reform is that Republicans are united in our commitment to reform our nation’s broken tax system.

            And, now, we have an administration that wants to work with Congress to fix the myriad problems in our tax code and a Congress that is ready to get it done.  I don’t think we could ask for better conditions.

            The media loves to write stories about disagreements among Republicans.  But, on tax reform, that divide really doesn’t exist.  Indeed, Republicans in both Congress and the White House agree on virtually every fundamental tax reform question.

            For example, Republicans agree that tax reform should be pro-growth, comprehensive, and should address both the individual and business tax systems.

            Republicans agree on the need to simplify the tax system by reducing the number of special interest credits and deductions and creating fewer tax brackets.

            Republicans, by and large, agree that we need a fairer tax system that treats similarly situated taxpayers similarly and picks fewer winners and losers.  Also, on the point of fairness, most Republicans support repeal or reform of the Death Tax.  

            And, Republicans agree that we need to make our nation more competitive by reducing corporate rates and moving to a territorial tax system.  

            What’s left after those threshold issues are questions about detail and design.  I’m not saying that the remaining questions are all easy.  I am saying that, because we agree on the fundamental issues and principles, there is every reason to be optimistic that we can work through the details as the process moves forward.  

            Of course, some of those details are more prominent than others.   

            One such detail is the House’s border adjustability proposal.  Border adjustability seems to be the focus of almost every single tax conversation in Washington these days.

             I get asked about border adjustability literally every single day I’m in the Capitol.  

            The questions take several forms.  For example, I get asked:

            What’s your view on border adjustability?

            Are you in favor of border adjustability?

           Can border adjustability pass in the Senate?

            And on, and on, and on.  

           While those may sound like slightly different questions, they are really all just different version of the same question, which is: Will you publicly criticize another Republican’s tax plan so that we can write a story about Republican division?  

               I don’t want to disappoint anyone, but I’m not I’m not going to answer any version of that question here today.

               I’m not trying to be coy, and I’m not playing
hide-the-ball with my opinions.  The fact is, it’s too early for me to have a definitive position on this issue.  
Right now, I can say that I have some questions.  I’ll boil them down to three.  

                First, who will ultimately bear the tax?  To what extent will it be borne by consumers, workers, shareholders, and foreigners?

               Second, is border adjustability consistent with our international trade obligations?  

               Finally, since border adjustability would likely be a significant shift in business tax policy, would adjustments need to be made to ensure we’re not unduly increasing the tax burden on specific industries?
We don’t have definitive answers to any of those questions at this point, and without them, I don’t think I can give a definitive position on the proposal.   

               I can tell you what I do know about border adjustability at this point.

           I know that Chairman Brady is very adamant about the proposal, which, in my view, is a mark in its favor.

          I also know that at least a handful of Senators have serious reservations about border adjustability, and that requires us to consider the bigger picture.  

          Keep in mind that we now have 52 Republican votes in the Senate.  So, even if we move a tax reform package through budget reconciliation – a process that appears ever more likely – our margin of error, assuming we move on purely party-line basis, is only two votes.

             My preference would be to find a bipartisan path forward.  Historically speaking, that’s what’s worked best, even when reconciliation has been used.  But, if we don’t get any Democrats on board, we’ll basically need universal Republican support to pass anything through reconciliation.   

             That’s difficult to accomplish under any circumstances, let alone on something as complicated as tax reform.

             So, what does all this mean?  Am I trying to throw cold water on everyone’s tax reform enthusiasm?

              Absolutely not.

             What it means is that the Senate will have to work through its own tax reform process if we’re going to have any chance of succeeding.  No one should expect the Senate to simply take up and pass a House tax reform bill, and that’s not a bad thing.

            This is not to say that I plan to oppose or disregard Chairman Brady’s bill when it comes out.  Far from it.  I am confident that their tax reform plan will provide a strong, legitimate path forward.   

            I’m simply saying that a major concern on tax reform is producing a bill that can get through the Senate, and that is likely going to require a separate Senate tax reform process, which will almost surely end up looking different from what passes in the House.  

           And, once again, that’s not a bad thing.

           Currently, the Senate is in the early stages of its tax reform process.  I am constantly talking to all the members of the Finance Committee and our leadership in the Senate.  I’ve also consulted with Democrats to get a sense of their interests.  The committee is considering various proposals and things are moving forward rather rapidly at this time.  Our hope is to have a tax reform proposal in one form or another to discuss publicly in the near future.

           From there, we’ll have to see how the process unfolds, working with our leadership, our colleagues in the House, and, of course, the administration on the next steps.  

           Let’s move on to Healthcare reform, which is another priority for the Finance Committee in the 115th Congress.  It is also another priority where Republicans are in virtually unanimous agreement:  We all want to repeal Obamacare.  And, we all want to replace it with better, more patient-centered, reforms that help address costs.

           We’ve already taken one step to repeal and replace Obamacare with the passage of our recent budget bill.  We’re now looking forward to the next steps in the process.

           There are a lot of moving parts in the healthcare debate.  Let me do my best to crystalize them all into a handful of key points.

            First, I believe that we need to repeal Obamacare immediately, and provide for a stable transition period.  I understand the concerns some have expressed about the timing of repeal, and I think they’re well-intentioned.  But, with the bill we passed in 2015, we already have a pretty good outline for what a passable Obamacare repeal looks like.  I think we should use that bill as our model and not spend the next several months, if not years, campaigning about the path forward.  

            Second, I think the repeal should include as many replacement provisions as possible.  The Senate rules on reconciliation limit us in terms of subject matter, so we can’t include a full Obamacare replacement in a budget reconciliation bill.  However, in my view, we need to advance replacement policies in tandem with the repeal process.  And then we can keep working on the other parts of the system.  

            Third, we need to definitively answer the question about what to do with the Obamacare taxes.  Some have argued that we should keep all or some of them in place and use them to pay for our eventual replacement package.  My view is this: After spending seven years talking about the harm being caused by these taxes, it’s difficult to switch gears now and decide that they’re fine so long as they’re being used to pay for OUR healthcare bill.

           All of the Obamacare taxes need to go as part of the repeal process.  

           Finally, as we move forward on fully replacing Obamacare, I’ve been telling people that, at the end of the day, only three numbers really matter – this is similar to what I talked about on tax reform. The three most important numbers are: 218, 50, and 1. Those are the numbers of supporters we need at each step to pass an Obamacare repeal and replacement.  

            Once we’ve got the repeal in place and made a significant step forward on some solid replacement policies, we’ll need to do the hard work crafting a new plan.  It likely won’t be thousands of pages long.  And, it will hopefully focus on returning as much authority to the states as possible.  

            I am currently working with my colleagues who chair the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees on both repeal and replace legislation.  These are two great chairmen and I appreciate their willingness to put in the time and effort to make sure we do this right.  

            Long story short: You can expect to hear a lot about healthcare out of the Finance Committee in the 115th Congress.  

            Now, let’s take a moment to talk about trade.

            I know many of you are anxious about this topic.  And, there is quite a bit of uncertainty in the air.   

             From my first day as Ranking Member, and then as Chairman, of the Finance Committee, I committed to making our trade institutions and policies more predictable, accountable, transparent, and effective.

             It’s taken a lot of work and compromise, but we’ve made a lot of progress.  
Let me get more specific.  

             In the 114th Congress, we reauthorized and modernized our nation’s customs system for the first time in decades. In so doing, we enhanced our border security and facilitated the flow of legitimate trade.

            We renewed and enhanced our nation’s trade preference programs including the Generalized System of Preferences and the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

            We reformed the process for Congressional consideration of Miscellaneous Tariff Bills, and created new procedures for their consideration.

            And, after years of bipartisan negotiation, we empowered our trade negotiators through renewal and modernization of Trade Promotion Authority.  

            That is a pretty hefty list of trade accomplishments, if I do say so myself.  Of course, it took the work of many people in this room to achieve these successes.  And you should all be proud of your work.

             However, when all of these bills got across the finish line, I said that our work was just beginning, and we’ve done quite a bit since then.  

             From the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, to the Trade in Services Agreement, Congress, pursuant to the laws we passed, was fully engaged with the Obama Administration in an attempt to forge bipartisan agreements that met the high standards of TPA and would win Congress’s approval.  

           As most of you in this room know, the only agreement that the Obama Administration concluded, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, fell short of those standards.  

           I made that crystal clear the very day the negotiations were concluded.  

           Nevertheless, throughout 2016, I worked with the folks at USTR and our trading partners to see if we could make enough improvements to get enough support for TPP in Congress.  

           Unfortunately, those efforts did not succeed.

           Now, I know this is painful history for many of you.  It certainly is for me.

           And I am not here to cast blame on the Obama Administration.  On the contrary, I have great respect for Ambassador Froman and his team.

           I actually think these events can serve as a cautionary tale.  

           President Trump is the first President in decades to come into office with TPA in effect.  

           He’s said that he wants to use that authority aggressively to negotiate bilateral trade agreements that Congress can support and that provide real benefits to American workers, families, and businesses.  

           I support those goals.

           However, as the Chairman of the Finance Committee, I intend to make sure new agreements meet the high standards we established in our TPA statute.  

           If they fall short of those standards, I won’t support them.  Many of my colleagues feel the same way.  

           I also intend to continue fulfilling our oversight responsibilities on all aspects of U.S. trade policy.  From import tariffs, to currency manipulation, to effective enforcement of our trade agreements, the Finance Committee will play an active and constructive role.

           In all of these efforts, my chief concern will be whether the administration’s policies promote economic growth, expand individual opportunity, increase transparency and the rule of law, and, of course, promote and protect intellectual property rights.  

           We have an unprecedented opportunity to modernize and rebalance our trade agenda to more closely reflect our values and economic interests.  As Chairman of the Finance Committee, I am committed to doing all I can to make sure our nation seizes this opportunity.

            I look forward to having everyone here assist us in that endeavor.

            There are a number of other issues on the Finance Committee’s plate for this Congress.  

            We have the ever-present need to fix our unsustainable entitlement programs.

            We have reforms to our Child Welfare system that we’d like to move forward.

            We have important pension legislation that we want to see enacted.

           There’s also a bipartisan chronic care proposal that we’ve been working on for some time.
There’s all of that and much more.  

           However, I’m quite certain that everyone here would prefer that I limit my remarks to the immediate high-profile issues I’ve already discussed and stop talking.

           And, I’m going to do that…in a minute.  

           Before I conclude, I just want to say that I recognize we are facing some serious difficulties as a nation, including lackluster economic growth, a crippling national debt, national security challenges, and many others.  I’m not under any illusions that these problems can be solved overnight.  I certainly don’t believe they can all be fixed by a single party or President.

           I have a long history of working with people both parties to accomplish great things.  And, I want to do more of that in the future and get past the divisiveness we see today.  

           I know we can.  And, with all of your help, I think we will.”