Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Departure of George Yin from the Joint Committee on Taxation

Courtesy of Paul Caron's TaxProf blog, I note that George Yin is leaving the position as Chief of Staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation that he has held since 2003, in order to return to the University of Virginia Law School. The departure is effective November 18, by which time I presume the powers that be (the heads of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees) will be eager to have found a new JCT Chief of Staff.

I am glad for George, since the pressures of being JCT Chief of Staff in the current tax policy environment strike me as rather high relative to the rewards (which clearly had to be psychic rather than monetary). I am also glad for myself and the others in our biz, who will welcome George back to the academic world. On the other hand, this may be bad news from the standpoint of tax policymaking in the U.S. Congress. George was undoubtedly a force for good, whether the influence he could exert through his position was great or small.

When the position of JCT Chief opened up a few years ago, I was concerned that the leadership of the tax committees would be eager to appoint a hack. I had two reasons for expecting this. The first was that, with both houses under the control of the same party, one of the past reasons for picking a reputable and independent chief - that he or she would be a trustworthy arbiter between the two Houses, rather than being politically beholden or motivated - might no longer apply. To be sure, JCT reputability and independence have survived past instances of one-party control. But the second reason was that the central Republican leadership in Congress, which often exercises a tight rein over committee chairs, strikes me as having, like the Bush Administration, very little interest in independent or (as liberal bloggers are fond of saying) reality-based) policy input from experts.

Given this, I was very pleasantly surprised, verging on shocked, when someone as honorable, reputable, independent, and expert in tax policy as George was picked for the job. Since they picked a good person once, maybe they will do it again. For that matter, if the Republican Congressional leadership is serious about the fundamental tax reform process that the Bush Administration purports to be serious about, then a reputable, independent expert is exactly what they need. But we will see. I suspect that many of the qualified candidates for the job would be skeptical that the position is worth taking unless they not only get good assurances but also believe that there will be a serious tax reform process - which there may not be, what with Katrina, Bush's apparent political decline, etc., even if the Republicans do seriously intend it.

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