Compliance

Senator Cardin’s Tax Counsel Measures Likelihood of Reform

Speaking with a recent winner of the Plan Adviser Mega Team of the Year designation, Elizabeth Bell offered a frank, behind-the-scenes look at the ongoing legislative discussions surrounding health care and tax reform. 

By John Manganaro editors@strategic-i.com | September 19, 2017
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Earlier this month Jeff Snyder, vice president and senior consultant at Cammack Retirement Group, winner of the 2017 PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser Mega Team of the Year designation, sat down for an interview with Elizabeth Bell, Tax Counsel for U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).

The conversation ranged over the Affordable Care Act repeal effort, tax reform and other crucial regulatory and legislative issues impacting retirement plan service providers and their clients. In the end Bell is clear that both health care and tax reform are taking up the bulk of staffers’ time these days on the Senate Finance Committee—so it seems clear that the retirement planning industry is in store for a fast-paced session over the next few months.

Political junkies will know how impressive it is that the firm was able to bring in Bell for such a frank and wide-ranging talk. As Snyder agreed in a subsequent interview with PLANADVISER, in modern Washington it is exceedingly rare to hear directly from such a senior staffer of such a senior Senator, responding to important industry questions in a more or less unscripted and direct manner, on camera, speaking about fraught and divisive issues that are playing out right now in Washington.

Turning to Bell’s commentary, she made the disclaimer that she was sharing her own thoughts and ideas, not the point of view of the Senator or the Finance Committee. Still, she is directly involved in the ongoing debate and has an unmatched visibility into the legislative process. 

“In terms of the legislative agenda going forward, there is definitely a discussion of a pivot to tax reform,” Bell said. “This is a natural response to the big health care reform bill challenge. It was fascinating to see how even the procedural thresholds for that vote turned into a real battle."

In the end the measure failed, but Bell remains unwilling to call the Affordable Care Act repeal effort dead—she thinks we may very well see the possibility of bipartisan developments on health care, or even a new unilateral effort by Republicans in the Senate and the House.

Snyder asked about the challenge it must be for legislative staff to pivot between such complex issues, one after the other, and Bell agreed to some extent that it is a challenge. But she also argued that the Senate Finance Committee has been viewing the health care and tax reform issues on “parallel tracks for some time now.”

“As we all saw during the debate, there were some important tax elements that would have been included in the ACA repeal bills, and both the Democratic and Republican members were not shy even then about speaking about their plans for tax reform and how those might impact the health care picture,” Bell explained. “So yes, there is a pivot on the Senate floor and in terms of what we are hearing about each day in the media, but behind the scenes there is consistent work going on with both pictures.”

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