Wyden Open to Trade, Tax Talks as Finance Chairman

Wyden Open to Trade, Tax Talks as Finance Chairman

Sen. Ron Wyden said Thursday he remains open to consideration of a trade bill and a broad overhaul of the tax code as he prepares to succeed outgoing Finance Chairman Max Baucus after the Montana Democrat’s confirmation as the new U.S. ambassador to China.

Both have been high priorities for Baucus, who will leave Washington after the Senate voted 96-0 to confirm him as the new envoy in Beijing.

Wyden, D-Ore., told reporters after the vote that he was laying groundwork for a smooth transition and developing his plans for managing the tax-writing panel.

Senate aides said the Democratic Caucus is expected to vote next week to formally elect two chairmen: Wyden on Finance and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana to replace Wyden as head of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Wyden said Thursday he had met with Baucus this week to discuss legislative issues, and said he was developing plans to deal with specific items. “They’ve done a lot of very good work. I’m going to have to talk to my colleagues about that,” Wyden said.

Wyden made clear that he was open to possible changes to provisions in the trade promotion authority bill (S 1900) that Baucus developed with Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the panel’s ranking Republican. House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., has backed a companion bill (HR 3830).

The bill is a high priority for President Barack Obama and for the GOP, but a number of Democrats have said they are concerned about ceding too much authority to the White House.

Wyden has criticized the Obama administration’s handling of negotiations for the ambitious Transpacific Partnership and may seek greater safeguards in areas such as technology. Wyden said he believed there had been changes in global trade since the enactment of the 2002 trade promotion authority law (PL 107-210), which he supported.

“A large number of senators have come up and said, ‘We just want a chance to discuss these issues,’ ” Wyden said.

He said he also hoped to explore prospects for a tax overhaul that was Baucus’ top priority. Wyden said a bipartisan tax overhaul plan that he offered last Congress with Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., was “a concept to discuss in a bipartisan way,” but that he would be open to other ideas.

“There is an old saying about tax reform, that it is always, totally, completely and thoroughly impossible until about 15 minutes before it comes together,” Wyden said.

While Wyden decides how to continue tax overhaul discussions he must also figure out how to deal with a package of tax cut extensions (S 1859) and a proposal to replace the formula for Medicare payments to health care providers (S 1871). Another top priority will be to replace a temporary Medicare payment patch (Pl 113-67) that expires March 31.

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