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Joint Committee Role in the Tax Legislative Process

The Joint Committee Staff is closely involved in every aspect of the tax legislative process. Among other things, the Joint Committee Staff (1) prepares hearing pamphlets, committee reports, and conference reports (statements of managers), (2) assists in the drafting of statutory language, (3) assists Members of Congress with the development and analysis of legislative proposals, (4) assists Members of Congress in addressing constituent issues and problems, (5) prepares revenue estimates of all revenue legislation considered by the Congress, (6) reviews proposed large income tax refunds, and (7) initiates investigations of various aspects of the Federal tax system. These staff activities are described in greater detail below.

Committee hearings

Early in the legislative process, both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee often hold hearings on tax legislative proposals. The Joint Committee Staff generally prepares a hearing pamphlet examining the issues to be addressed. The hearing pamphlets typically describe present law and the proposals that are the subject of the hearing. The pamphlets also often provide an in-depth legal and economic analysis of the issues being considered. The staff also prepares several pamphlets every year that are not for specific hearings, such as the Tax Expenditures pamphlet (which the staff produces pursuant to the requirements of the 1974 Budget Act).

Joint Committee Staff members are present at hearings to answer questions that Members, their staffs, and tax-writing committee staffs may have. The staff also frequently briefs Members and their staffs on issues that could arise during the hearing and assist in the formulation of questions for Members to ask witnesses scheduled to testify.

Preparation of bills

The Joint Committee Staff assists all Members in preparing bills for introduction. This assistance includes development and analysis of proposals, assistance in preparation of a statutory draft, and preparation of a description of the bill. This description may be either a technical explanation or a brief description for the general public (or both). This assistance typically involves meetings with the Member or the Member's staff, as well as constituents and others. Some of these bills form the basis for proposals included in larger tax bills, while others do not proceed further through the legislative process.

Preparation for Ways and Means Committee markup

The Joint Committee Staff works very closely with the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and his staff in preparing for committee markup of tax legislation. The Joint Committee Staff, along with the Ways and Means Committee staff, helps develop proposals and statutory language for potential inclusion in a Chairman's Mark (the proposal put forward by the Chairman in recent years for committee consideration at the start of the markup process). The Joint Committee Staff helps analyze the arguments for and against the proposals, as well as helps to design proposals that meet the specific policy, technical, and revenue goals of the Chairman. The Joint Committee Staff also prepares revenue analyses of the proposals.

The Joint Committee Staff also assists the minority committee Members and their staff, upon their request, in the preparation of markup alternatives. This assistance can range from the preparation of a complete alternative package to the preparation of specific amendments in discrete areas. The Joint Committee Staff also provides these services for individual Members of both the majority and minority parties.

As decisions are made about proposals for markup, the Joint Committee Staff prepares written descriptions of the proposals and their effects on present law. The Joint Committee Staff also prepares a revenue analysis for each proposal, as well as a revenue table reflecting all the proposals in a particular markup package. The Joint Committee Staff often produces distributional analyses of the effects of major legislative proposals.

Ways and Means Committee markup

When the Ways and Means Committee begins a markup, the Chief of Staff of the Joint Committee usually sits at the witness table and describes the legislative proposals before the committee. In addition, the Chief of Staff answers questions from the Members relating to the proposed legislation. As amendments are raised by other Members, the Chief of Staff frequently describes and answers questions about the amendments. The Joint Committee Staff may also answer questions about the tax policy and administrative aspects of proposals under consideration. As amendments are adopted in markup, the Joint Committee Staff analyzes the revenue impact of those amendments, and keeps a running total of the revenue effects of the committee's actions.

While markup is in progress, the Joint Committee Staff meets with Ways and Means Committee staff and legislative counsel attorneys to help draft the statutory language for any amendments to the Chairman's Mark. The Joint Committee Staff has the primary responsibility for writing the legislative explanation that will accompany the committee's legislation. At the conclusion of markup, the Joint Committee Staff compiles comments that have been received from the Ways and Means Committees staff on the draft of the legislative explanation and produces the final version of the committee report. Often this must be done in a very short time period. In addition, the Joint Committee Staff prepares the final revenue table reflecting all decisions made by the Ways and Means Committee. The committee report and statutory language are then filed on the House floor. In addition, the Joint Committee Staff assists the Ways and Means Committee's staff in their preparation of (1) talking points for the Chairman to use in explaining the committee's action, (2) a summary of the committee's action for members of the news media, and (3) any materials that may be necessary for the Rules Committee or the House floor.

Simultaneously, the Joint Committee Staff assists Members of the minority (upon their request) in preparing amendments to the committee's bill for consideration by either the Rules Committee or on the floor.

When tax legislation is considered on the floor, Joint Committee Staff members are available to answer questions about the content of the bill and possible amendments.

Senate Finance Committee markup

Markup in the Senate Finance Committee is similar to markup in the Ways and Means Committee, with two principal exceptions. First, Finance Committee procedure typically allows the consideration of a larger number of amendments. Consequently, the Joint Committee Staff spends a great deal of time assisting Members of both the majority and minority in the preparation of amendments and alternative packages. Second, the Finance Committee generally does not mark up statutory language, but rather uses the Joint Committee Staff description of a proposal as the basis of the markup.

Senate Floor consideration

Joint Committee Staff assists Senators and their staffs in the preparation of possible floor amendments. Joint Committee staff members also are present on the Senate floor when tax legislation is being considered. The Joint Committee Staff responds to questions from Senators and their staffs, as well as from Finance Committee staff, about amendments that might be considered by the Senate. In addition, the Joint Committee Staff prepares revenue analyses of amendments that may be considered on the Senate floor and assist in the preparation of explanatory materials.

Preparation for Conference

After the House has passed a bill, and while the bill is being considered on the Senate floor, the Joint Committee Staff prepares for conference. The Joint Committee Staff prepares side-by-side revenue tables for all provisions in both bills as well as a side-by-side document describing all the provisions in both bills. The Joint Committee Staff meets with Members of the conference committee, as well as their staffs, to analyze the effects of proposals that might be considered by the conferees, as well as clarifications and modifications to those proposals.

Conference Committee

At the start of the conference, the Chief of Staff of the Joint Committee generally describes the content of the two bills. The staff meets with the conferees, particularly the two Chairmen of the tax-writing committees, to assist them in developing possible compromise proposals on matters before the conference. In addition, the Joint Committee Staff assists the staffs of the Ways and Means and Finance Committees in developing offers from one side to the other. While assisting in the conference negotiations, the Joint Committee Staff assists in drafting the statutory language that will implement the decisions of the conferees and estimates the revenue consequences of the various compromise proposals. The Joint Committee Staff also has the primary responsibility for writing the explanatory statement-of-managers portion of the conference report.

At the conclusion of the conference, the Joint Committee Staff is responsible for incorporating the comments of the tax-writing committees' staffs into the statement of managers. The Joint Committee Staff produces the final statement of managers as soon as possible after the conference concludes.

Conclusion of Conference

Once the conferees have completed their work and the Joint Committee Staff has prepared both the statement of managers and the final revenue table, the staff assists the Chairmen and the tax-writing committee staffs in preparation of explanatory materials of the conferees' decisions. The Joint Committee Staff answers questions from Members' offices, from private parties, and from the news media, regarding the decisions made by the conferees. The staff also assists in answering questions on the floors of both the House and Senate that arise in the consideration of the conference report.

Consultation with the Administration

The Joint Committee Staff consults with Treasury and IRS personnel throughout the legislative process. This permits the staff to gain a better understanding of Administration proposals, to assess the impact of proposals on the current tax system, and to address administrative and compliance issues that will arise if proposals are enacted. These efforts result in a better legislative product and often eliminate the need for technical corrections or other future amendments.

Meetings with outside parties

Throughout the entire legislative process, meetings are held with outside parties that may be affected by the legislation being considered. The Joint Committee Staff does so at the outside parties' request, at a Member's request, and on the staff's own initiative. These meetings help the Joint Committee Staff assess the impact of the provisions, understand their effect on the private sector, and consider and analyze requests for modifications.

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