U.S. House of Representatives

By Billy House
Updated: March 28, 2013 | 7:51 p.m.
March 28, 2013 | 7:30 p.m.

A strategy by House Republican leaders to bottle up revenue bills until a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code is finished is being sold to GOP lawmakers as a tactical way to hobble Senate Democrats.

The Constitution requires revenue measures to originate in the House, but once the Senate receives those bills, they can be used as a vehicle for its own tax priorities. By withholding revenue bills – the House Ways and Means Committee has not passed any this year – House GOP leaders can starve the Senate.

Yet some critics say the strategy is merely political cover for House Republicans, who fear they don’t have enough clout within their own conference to pass some needed revenue bills. Bottling up the bills, they say, avoids the embarrassment of defeat on the House floor.

“The idea that they’re not going to move any revenue bills until a comprehensive tax-reform bill is done is an excuse to not do any legislating,” one senior House Democrat aide said. “We’ve seen that in just the first three months of this year.”

While House Republican leaders are pointing to the potential use of these bills by Senate Democrats to advance tax hikes and other measures that Republicans oppose, the no-revenue-bills strategy is holding even for popular legislation. Some of the stymied measures passed the House last year.

One such bill would repeal a 2.3-percent excise tax on medical devices enacted in 2010 to help pay for health reform. That bill remains frozen in the House, despite having 212 bipartisan cosponsors. Moreover, just last week, the Senate, in a symbolic move of support for the legislation, voted 79-20 to repeal the tax as part of the chamber’s 2014 budget resolution.

That bill’s sponsor, Ways and Means Committee member Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., says he’s been pushing leadership hard for a vote, either separately or as part of another tax initiative. “Jobs are being shed and lost as we speak,” he said.

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