Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Should Congress Abolish the Joint Committee on Taxation?

Howard Gleckman (Urban Institue) asks Should Congress Abolish the Joint Committee on Taxation?:

Should the Joint Committee on Taxation cede its key role as scorekeeper for tax bills to the Congressional Budget Office? A former boss of JCT suggests that maybe it should, at least for a big chunk of the tax code.

To outsiders, these arbiters of the budget implications of tax and spending bills are something of a mystery. CBO tracks the costs of spending bills and, as we've seen in the debate over health reform, its influence can be enormous. At the same time, JCT performs a parallel task by doing revenue estimates of tax bills (JCT also has a staff of lawyers who provide lawmakers with technical tax-writing advice) . But behind the scenes, the two offices have been rivals for many years.

Now, in a footnote (#111) to a new paper on tax expenditures [Tax Expenditure Framework Legislation], former JCT chief of staff Ed Kleinbard gives a big shout out to---CBO. This office, he says, is better suited to some key roles because of its “relative stature and independence.” Ed is not criticizing the quality of the JCT staff, but rather the nature of its relationship with tax-writing committees. Still, this is akin to former Yankee manager Joe Torre saying the Red Sox are the better team.

Then, Ed goes a step further. He asks whether the tax legislative process could be improved by incorporating the JCT staff into CBO. He doesn’t answer his own rhetorical question, but he doesn’t have to. His message is pretty clear. ...

By turning the scorekeeping over to CBO, Kleinbard would send a powerful signal that these subsidies are, in fact, spending. But what about the broader point? Is CBO more objective than JCT, as Kleinbard suggests?

I’m not so sure. To an outside observer, JCT has almost always seemed to be a pretty honest arbiter. ... It would not be the end of the world if JCT’s revenue estimating were folded into CBO, but I think Ed’s judgment of his old shop is a bit harsh.   

UpdateDaniel N. Shaviro (NYU), The Joint Committee on Taxation's (Lack of) Institutional Independence.

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I know that I have both bookmarked as favorites but most often go to the JCT. I wonder how many of us do as I do and use JCT more frequently. I also sure do appreciate their explanations of legislation. When I was in pracrice at a major firm, we all grabbed them as soon as they came out. I never remember any practicing lawyer talking about anything other than revenue estimates for the CBO.

I also agree with Mike and Andy above.

Posted by: Bill | Jan 20, 2010 8:58:23 AM

abolish only the refund review function; no need for congress to meddle into purely executive acts.

Posted by: andy | Jan 19, 2010 7:35:06 PM

OK, but abolishing JCT would be another step away from the idea of nonpartisan tax policy and toward the increasingly prevalent idea that "all is politics." As a former staffer, I can't help regretting this. It may be an inevitable development but that does not make it a good one.

Posted by: mike livingston | Jan 19, 2010 2:58:30 PM