(Senate - October 17, 2017)

Text available as:

Formatting necessary for an accurate reading of this text may be shown by tags (e.g., <DELETED> or <BOLD>) or may be missing from this TXT display. For complete and accurate display of this text, see the PDF.

[Pages S6464-S6465]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


      By Mr. FLAKE:
  S. 1974. A bill to require transparency in the tax code by requiring 
federally funded tax credits to be disclosed in the 
website; to the Committee on Finance.
  Mr. FLAKE. Mr. President, I rise to speak on the much needed topic of 
tax reform. The high rates and complicated nature of the current Tax 
Code are burdening individual taxpayers and making businesses less 
competitive in the global market. That simply has to change. It has 
been more than 30 years since we have passed major tax reform, and we 
are well past time.
  Unfortunately, I recently learned of a serious threat to reforming 
the Tax Code called alpacas. Now, what do these cute, mild-mannered 
pets have to do with Federal tax policy? Earlier this year, I issued an 
oversight report entitled ``Tax Rackets: Outlandish Loopholes to Lower 
Tax Liabilities.'' That report demonstrated how clever accounting 
allows nearly anything imaginable to become a writeoff, including 
  To illustrate the point, the report outlined how local and Federal 
tax bills can be sheared by claiming exotic pets--these exotic pets--as 
livestock and turning backyards into barnyards. That is when the fur 
really started to fly.
  Alpaca owners associations that once brazenly touted this tax fleece 
as a key selling point for the animals now feigned outrage at the 
suggestion. The association tried to pull the wool over the eyes of 
taxpayers by retaining a professional PR consultant. They launched a 
media campaign, inundating my office and others with phone calls, 
social media messages, and letters with photos of alpacas.
  Through slick reporting and aggressive lobbying, tax-subsidized 
alpaca ownership was somehow presented as a bulwark of small business 
and a flourishing middle class. If this mere mention of a tax break 
costing $10 million annually and enjoyed by relatively few taxpayers 
elicited such an outmeasured and aggressive response, imagine the 
backlash we will face when we are attempting to actually eliminate tax 
preferences benefiting powerful corporations and special interests to 
the tune of billions of dollars.
  There are over 200 loopholes buried throughout the Tax Code that 
collectively cost $123 trillion annually. Again, there are over 200 
loopholes buried throughout the Tax Code that collectively cost $1.23 
trillion annually. This exceeds the total amount spent annually by the 
Federal Government for all discretionary programs, which includes 
defense, education, transportation, foreign aid, and protecting the 
  These exemptions increase the bill for the average taxpayer. They 
also make the Tax Code so complicated that most individuals have to 
hire a tax professional or buy software to help complete their tax 
  At more than 74,000 pages in length, no one--not even those in 
Washington who write the laws or enforce them--truly understands 
Federal tax law. Special interests are taking advantage of this 
confusion by hiring armies of accountants and Washington lobbyists to 
dodge taxes and cash in on the complexity of the code. For example, 
developers are claiming--these are a lot of homebuilders are claiming 
$8 billion in tax credits every year supposedly to construct low-income 
housing, but with fewer homes being built and no basic accountability 
requirements, it is nearly impossible to track how this money is being 
  The Government Accountability Office, the GAO, which is 
investigating, said the ``IRS and no one else in the federal government 
really has an idea of what is going on.''
  The same is true with hundreds of other tax loopholes. A luxury yacht 
can qualify as a second home and can be eligible for a mortgage 
interest deduction. Alaskan ship captains can expense costs for whaling 
as charitable contributions, even though no money goes to charity and 
whaling is typically illegal otherwise. High rollers can itemize the 
cost of gambling trips, including entertainment. Even the cost of 
losing lottery tickets can be deducted, a kind of scratch-off writeoff.
  Only the IRS knows who is taking advantage of these loopholes, and 
the agency often cannot verify whether those claiming the tax giveaways 
are eligible. In order to achieve meaningful tax reform that makes the 
code simpler and fairer, we have to be able to first evaluate who is 
benefiting from these loopholes, for what purpose, and for what price.
  That is why I am introducing the Tax Expenditures Accountability Act, 
which will publicly disclose the names of the corporate and special 
interests receiving tax credits and the costs of these tax credits. 
This bill requires the Department of Treasury to disclose the special 
interest receiving tax credits just as all other Federal expenditures 
are currently disclosed on the public website Sunlight 
is obviously the best disinfectant, and I look forward to exposing many 
of these loopholes, eliminating them, and returning the savings to 
individual taxpayers in the form of lower taxes.
  As the alpaca lobby demonstrated, riding herd on tax breaks will 
cause every special interest benefiting from the code's complexity and 
unfairness to cry foul. Washington's powerful special interests will 
mobilize and threaten to derail tax reform. Many would rather protect 
these loopholes than allow taxpayers to keep more of their own 

[[Page S6465]]

  Coming up short on reform is not an option. We have to do it this 
year. Individuals and businesses are suffering under a broken, 
antiquated tax code that is in dire need of fixing. We can't be 
deterred in efforts to achieve real reform that reduces the tax bill 
for everyone.
      By Mr. KAINE (for himself and Mr. Warner):
  S. 1975. A bill to designate additions to the Rich Hole Wilderness 
and the Rough Mountain Wilderness of the George Washington National 
Forest, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Agriculture, 
Nutrition, and Forestry.
  Mr. KAINE. Mr. President, this bill authorizes additions to two 
existing wilderness areas within the George Washington National Forest 
in Virginia; the Rich Hole and Rough Mountain Wilderness Areas. It's a 
relatively simple bill, and it provides only a small window into the 
volume of work done by Virginians to manage a vast swath of Federal 
land in this region collaboratively and responsibly.
  America's Federal lands are some of our most precious assets. We may 
hike or bike them; derive energy, minerals, or goods from them; or 
sometimes just leave them to nature. There is a long history of 
conflict among stakeholders who disagree on which Federal lands are 
best suited to which purposes.
  Many years ago, forest users with different views and interests 
formed the George Washington National Forest Stakeholder Collaborative. 
Through hard work and consensus, the Collaborative agreed upon a number 
of recommendations for forest management and protection. Everyone got 
some of what they wanted and gave some ground. Preservation advocates 
consented to timber harvest and other active forest restoration and 
management in certain areas. The forest products industry consented to 
wilderness and lightly-managed areas elsewhere. The U.S. Forest 
Service's 2014 revised GW Forest Management Plan reflected many of 
these agreements.
  Subsequently, the Forest Service convened the Lower Cowpasture 
Restoration and Management Project, bringing more stakeholders to the 
table, earlier in the process, to negotiate out how to manage this 
particular part of the Forest, located in the lower portion of the 
Cowpasture River watershed, in ways that work for everyone. Within this 
process, further compromises were made to achieve a mutually 
satisfactory project that could gather broad support. All members of 
the Stakeholder Collaborative now support the wilderness additions 
identified in this bill.
  I am proud to partner on this with my colleague Senator Mark Warner, 
and we are following in the path blazed by Senator John Warner and 
Representative Rick Boucher, who were instrumental in passing the 
original Virginia Wilderness Act in 1984.
  Taking care of our Nation's outdoor resources is good for our economy 
and good for our environment. Land disputes may sometimes be difficult, 
but the example of the GW Forest Stakeholder Collaborative proves they 
don't have to be. When everyone comes to the table and invests the 
necessary time, we can find common ground. I hope this will be a lesson 
for us in other tough policy challenges, and I encourage the Senate to 
support this bill.