Paul L. Caron

Friday, March 12, 2021

President Biden Nominates Lily Batchelder To Be Assistant Treasury Secretary For Tax Policy: 'A Terrific Choice'

White House Press Release, President Biden Announces Intent to Nominate Key Roles for the Department of Treasury:

BatchelderAssistant Secretary for Tax Policy – Lily Batchelder
Lily Batchelder is the Robert C. Kopple Family Professor of Taxation at NYU School of Law and an affiliated professor at the NYU Wagner School of Public Service. From 2014 to 2015, she served as Deputy Director of the White House National Economic Council and Deputy Assistant to the President under President Obama. There, she was responsible for tax and budget issues, including tax reform, retirement policy, and low-income benefits. From 2010 to 2014, she served as Majority Chief Tax Counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, where she led Chairman Baucus’s work on tax issues, including tax reform and the fiscal cliffs. Batchelder’s scholarship and teaching focus on personal income taxes, wealth transfer taxes, business tax reform, retirement savings, social insurance, and the effects of fiscal policy on economic insecurity, income disparities, and intergenerational mobility. Before joining NYU in 2005, Batchelder was an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, director of community affairs for a New York state senator, and a client advocate for a small social services organization in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Batchelder received an AB in Political Science with honors and distinction from Stanford University, an MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School, and a JD from Yale Law School.

Robert Kuttner (American Prospect), Biden’s Team of Rivals: His Top Economic Appointments Are Two Steps Forward, One Step Backward:

Lily Batchelder ... will be assistant Treasury secretary in charge of tax policy. This is a crucial appointment, and a terrific choice.

Batchelder, who was on the Biden transition team, is perhaps best known and admired among progressive tax reformers for her work on the idea of an inheritance tax to replace the estate tax. The difference is that an estate tax, the current version, is paid by the estate and then the proceeds that are left are tax-free to the heirs. With an inheritance tax, the proceeds are counted as taxable income.

That means that someone inheriting a large windfall will pay tax according to their income bracket. Shifting from an estate tax to an inheritance tax is more equitable, and paves the way to restoring more than token taxes on large fortunes, after decades of right-wing demonizing of the “death tax.”

Batchelder is expert on other obscure and abused parts of the tax code, such as the corporate depreciation allowance that results in large corporations paying little if any tax. Her research has debunked the idea that this tax preference actually promotes investment. When Elizabeth Warren first proposed her wealth tax, Batchelder pushed back against the claim that it would be easily evaded.

There is also huge work to be done in reducing offshore tax evasion. Some of this can be done by better enforcement strategies and tougher regulation, as well as tax treaties. And there is the task of counter-reforming Trump’s tax cut. All of this will come under Batchelder’s purview.

Her résumé is far from that of a radical. She teaches tax law at NYU Law School, and is another veteran of the Obama White House, having been deputy director of the National Economic Council for tax and budget issues in 2014 and 2015. Before that, she was Democratic tax counsel of the Senate Finance Committee under Sen. Max Baucus, a budget hawk who was nobody’s idea of a lefty.

Batchelder is an interesting case of someone whose own instincts are more progressive than her résumé, but whose career path is nicely reassuring to the Clinton/Obama veterans at the senior level of the Biden administration. She also worked for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign.

It remains to be seen how much policy influence Batchelder will exercise. When Larry Summers was at the White House, the Treasury had little influence over tax policy. With a strong Treasury secretary in Janet Yellen, the Treasury Department is likely to be a more influential player.

At the same time, the person who has Batchelder’s old job on the National Economic Council, David Kamin, will probably have more direct influence over Biden’s policy priorities. Kamin, another NYU professor of tax law and an Obama veteran, is said to get along well with Batchelder, and have no major differences of policy or philosophy. ...

[T]he continuing story of the Biden economic team: one part exemplary, one part mixed. As these rivals try to form a team, this will be trench warfare between progressive and minimalist center-left. Let’s hope the sheer logic of tax reform and antitrust reform wins out over the undertow of compromised appointees, and that the president sides with the progressives. Lincoln’s team of rivals worked for only one reason—because of the greatness and resolve of Lincoln.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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