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Public Statements

Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013 -- Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ENZI. Mr. President, I appreciate the comments from the Senator from Oklahoma and have enjoyed working with him the entire time he has been here. He brings up a lot of important issues, part of which is the financial shape our country is in right now. I noticed his comment that we are the best-looking horse in the glue factory and so people are pouring money into the United States.

I went to one of the bond issue auctions where we and some people from other countries were willing to take a negative interest rate in order to buy our bonds, which means they think we are the best hope there is out there.

But that could change pretty quickly, and 5.88 percent is the average, which changes to $880 billion a year, which is a lot more than we spend on defense. So we need to be looking at some of those issues.

It is difficult to get a bill up around here. It is difficult to get a vote on an amendment around here. I know, because I have been working on the bill that is on the floor for 12 years, hoping to get an opportunity on the floor. So I would love to give Senators all the amendments they want; I was just hoping their amendments might be relevant--not germane, necessarily, relevant--to what we are doing; that it would be something about the sales tax collection. Those ought to come up. But when amendments are brought up as a result of frustration because people haven't been able to bring them up before--or some have even been brought up before and voted down--I would hope they would kind of constrain themselves on trying to make those an amendment to this bill.

Yes, there ought to be an easier way to get things going around here, and I think that would be in kind of a bipartisan way. This is a bipartisan bill. It is even bicameral. We have Republicans and Democrats on the House end working with us, conferring with us, hopefully, so something can be done, and here, of course, it is Republicans and Democrats--more than half of the people--who are supporting this bill.

As I said, I have worked for 12 years to get the bill to this point, and it usually gets blocked at the committee level. This time it didn't go to committee. I prefer bills to go to committee, but if we can't get them to committee and we get an opportunity to bring one up, we do.

One of the difficulties we have here is there are a lot of things that have to be done in the Senate, there are a lot of things people want to have done in the Senate, and there are a lot of things that have tremendous appeal throughout the United States or at least among certain people.

It is my understanding the next thing we are going to go to is water, and if my colleagues want to talk about a sensitive issue in the West, talk about water. My State gets an average of 16 inches--yes, that is right, just 16 inches--of rainfall a year. Other States get 16 inches in a month. We are considered high desert, and we are conscious of our water. So we will be interested in the water bill.

Following that, I think, is the immigration bill which has gotten a lot of publicity. There are a lot of people working on it, and there are a lot of opinions that I think are actually being worked into some kind of a bill.

Again, if we had a process where people could bring their bills up step by step, we could probably go through with a lot more. Because one of the complaints around here is bills often wind up to be a couple thousand pages long and it is hard to digest that. It is hard to bring the American people along on it. But the bill we are talking about here is an 11-page bill, and I think it is probably one of the most readable bills people have ever had to work on. An 11-page bill shouldn't probably take very long around here, but it takes just as long as any other bill. So I am hoping for this one chance we have to shore up some of the State, county, and town revenues, particularly since they are not going to be able to come to the Federal Government for money.

In fact, the Federal Government is taking money away from them right now and is talking about even more ways of taking money away from the States, the towns, the counties, and the municipalities.

What we did recently in that sequester bill is we took 5.3 percent out of the Federal Government's payment in lieu of taxes. They know they own properties in the States that, if they were in private hands, would result in property tax, but they are in the Federal Government's hands, and the States can't tax the Federal Government. But the Federal Government said, We know that is wrong, so we will pay a tax. The Federal Government decided what that tax would be and they don't raise it, so it has no relationship to the actual value of the property and what that property would raise if it were in private hands, which is why there are some appeals around here to sell off Federal property. But this year the Federal Government said, Well, yes, we owe that, and we haven't been increasing it so it is way below what the property tax ought to be, but we are going to cut you out of another 5.3 percent. I know people across America didn't have a choice of saving 5.3 percent of the money before sending it to the Federal Government, but the Federal Government is saying, For the taxes we owe, we are going to take 5.3 percent out of it first. So there are a lot of things there that are going to infringe on States and counties and municipalities.

I used to be a mayor so I know what the money is going to be used for and I know an essential part of that comes from sales tax--in States that have sales

tax--and in those States the property tax is usually pretty low. But if they continue to lose revenue on the remote sales that take their revenue away, they are going to have to probably raise some of those taxes. I know there is a desire to force them to reduce some tax in exchange for whatever tax they get from this, but they have been losing tax and they are going to be losing tax.

This is a States rights bill. That is how we got it shortened down so much. The States actually have to take some action in order to be able to do this. I hope we don't try to dictate to the States what they do with whatever money they raise from this. But, again, that is a possibility on an amendment.

I am sorry the Senator from Oklahoma isn't on the Finance Committee anymore because there is the possibility, as we are doing tax reform right now, to talk about a number of these things he brought up, including gamblers who get to deduct their losses and the 501(C)(6) corporations that are tax-free. We need to be talking about whether some of those things should be tax-free, what their purpose is, where the money goes, how much is in the private sector, and what it is used for. Of course, I have been on the Finance Committee and I have been going through these discussions on reforming the taxes, and every time we get into it, we think of a lot more things we could be spending money on. So sometimes we talk about raising the tax instead of making it fairer and simpler. The two things can actually be separate. The policy of how we spend the money is supposed to be appropriation and authorization from the committees. The committees say what they think the money ought to be spent on and then the appropriators are supposed to stay within those limits. But that isn't the way it exactly happens.

If we are going to have fairer and simpler taxes, they are going to have to be fairer and simpler. I know Senator Wyden has a principle that is a one-pager. That would be nice, if it were only one page to fill out for our taxes. Of course, that means getting rid of a lot of things we have come to take as standard policy in our taxes. Again, a lot of those could be handled another way and they could be more forthright and more honest on what exactly we are doing, and probably fairer to the recipients of some of the tax expenditures we get.

I appreciate the amendments brought up by the Senator. I hope others will come and at least explain their amendments, but I hope they will try to stick to amendments that actually affect the sales tax provisions. If we try to put on some other kind of taxes or take off some other kind of taxes, we are actually getting into the Ways and Means in the House which has the right to start all of these kinds of issues, and they call that a blue slip. That means they object to it and it is done for. So if we end up with one of those for this bill, what it actually does is kind of kill the bill.

I am hoping after all the years of work that we don't kill the bill, particularly since we found a way to simplify it and make it a States rights situation, so States have to take some action and so the States understand the action they are taking. I am hoping we can do that. But I appreciate those explanations and perhaps there are some of those that somebody won't object to. I don't object.

At this point, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.


Mr. ENZI. Mr. President, I want to make a couple of comments on what has transpired here this afternoon and for the last several days. One of the toughest things to do is to pass a bill. One of the easiest things to do is to kill a bill. You can do that simply by creating some confusion. Around here you can do it by applying some rules and suggesting that part of the process could be backtracked and done differently and done over.

It is pretty hard to get a bill to the floor. It doesn't happen very much. It could happen easier, it could happen more often. When you get one here, there are still a lot of ways to kill a bill and that is kind of what we are seeing because there are some people who say: Gee, if we don't get our amendment, we are going to kill the bill. We are going to vote against cloture, which is the only way to move on in the Senate because we like debate, we like pretty much unlimited debate.

Debate can be constructive. There are things that need to be done on bills. I heard several good ideas. They have been objected to, so we are not going to get to actually vote on those. But one thing as an accountant that I want to bring up is this thing about audits, because that can loom pretty strong for a business. Audit is something that we know from the IRS and it is very scary. But the audits they are talking about are not going to happen to nearly the extent they think they are going to happen. Somebody will have to be avoiding the sales tax entirely and they will have to have a very strong suspicion that they exceed $1 million online in a year before they will ever audit because it costs money to audit. Especially it would cost money if you went over the border to another State to audit. Then there are some difficulties with being able to collect what is discovered in the audit. But it is only done when something seems very wrong.

One of my clients I worked with for 10 years had big sales in the oilfield--lots of sales in the oilfield. We got audited on sales tax once in 10 years. I am pleased to say they did not find anything. It took them 2 weeks to do the audit and that was a very big business. It was very technical stuff. Of course they looked at it because a lot of them are very big sales. There are some confusing things in the sales too. But you have to have an audit in there for a little bit of honesty. So that is why that is in there. But it is not going to be something the States are going to jump on because it has some costs.

If you are a government that wants to do audits--I remember when I was in the Wyoming legislature they used to talk about how much return they got out of their audit. They would get $20 or $30 to the $1 of cost. Consequently they used that as an argument for hiring even more auditors because they would find a lot more money. The intent of an audit is not to find $1 for every dollar that is expended. It is to find $20 or $30, somebody who is violating the law in a big way so you can afford the cost of the audit. That of course keeps all of the people a little bit more honest. So audit has to be in here but audit is being blown out of proportion, probably so we can try to kill the bill. I hope that is not the intention.

They talked about needing to go to committee. I have gotten a couple of hearings on this in 12 years but have never been able to get a markup in the committee. This process has gotten this bill to the floor and I am hoping everybody will listen to their retailers and help out on this bill and get it finished. I can tell you, being in charge of this bill and one of the drafters of this bill, it is not a popularity contest you are winning. It is just the right thing to do. It is what the States need if they are going to have the revenue to provide all of the services that are in the municipalities--whether it is police or fire protection or cleaning the streets or whatever is done there, plus all of the charitable work people in the communities do too, because that is the sense of community they have so they contribute. All of that is going to dry up.

If you ask your municipality how much money they get out of sales tax, I think the minimum one of them will say is 30 percent. Probably the maximum is 70 percent. But that is a lot of budget and that is declining as the Internet grows and the sales happen without the tax. So I hope people will help pass this bill and get this into effect. It is only an 11-page bill. That is a miracle around here. It is possible for people to read the bill.

I thank the Senator from Massachusetts and appreciate the comments he made. He is new to the Senate but he obviously read the bill. I am very impressed with the comments he made. I hope people will help pass this bill.

I yield the floor.


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