Bramwell's Lunch Beat: Could Wyden Replace Baucus as Top Tax Writer?

Dec 23rd 2013
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For health coverage starting January 1, today is deadline
Americans have until the end of the day on Monday to sign up for health insurance starting January 1, 2014, under the Affordable Care Act. While consumers can sign up for 2014 health plans until March 31, the January launch date will preview the new health plans available under the law, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“The initial sign-up tallies are expected to fall far short of expectations: Only 365,000 people nationwide navigated through technologically troubled online marketplaces to enroll in private plans in October and November,” Christopher Weaver wrote. “On [December 20], President Obama told reporters a million more had enrolled in the first weeks of December, but the totals still fall short of a 3.5 million-enrollee target for the private plans by the year’s end.

“Many more low-income consumers – about 800,000 as of the end of November – are slated to join Medicaid programs, mostly in twenty-five states that chose to expand them, as envisioned by the law,” he continued. “Some states opted out of the expansion next year under a 2012 Supreme Court ruling.”

Baucus exit slows tax revamp as Wyden rises in stature
Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden – an ardent advocate of tax simplification – is in line to get the most influential position of his career, giving him a chance to shape the Internal Revenue Code along with trade and health policy, wrote Richard Rubin of Bloomberg.

Wyden is poised to become Senate Finance Committee chairman next year, taking over from Max Baucus (D-MT), who is not seeking reelection in 2014. Baucus is also President Obama’s choice as the next US ambassador to China.

“Wyden’s anticipated rise will mean a tougher if not impossible path to passing major tax changes in 2014 because Baucus’ departure will end momentum for an effort that’s already been stalled by partisan divides over raising revenue,” Rubin wrote.

Banks demand pity party over Volcker Rule losses
Also in Bloomberg, columnist Jonathan Weil wrote this about the Volcker Rule: “The point of the Volcker Rule was to keep banks from gambling with depositors’ money. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that banks face new restrictions on the types of investments they can make. At some point, after three years of hand-wringing, the banking regulators have to stop revising what they’ve passed and declare it final, which they happen to have done already this month. Whining from bankers about their sudden inability to paper over losses on old CDOs isn’t a sufficient reason to reopen the process all over again.”

Target data breach spurs lawsuits, investigations
You knew it was only a matter of time before Target would be sued by consumers and investigated by state attorney’s general offices over the theft of data on about 40 million credit and debit card accounts of shoppers at Target from November 27 to December 15, which are now flooding the black market, the USA Todayreported.

More than $5 million in damages is being sought in three class-action lawsuits – two of which were filed in California and one in Oregon. Also, the attorney general in at least four states – Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and South Dakota – have asked Target for information about the breach. The Secret Service has also launched its own investigation.

Worldwide, banks make Xmas gift to IRS: American account holders
Forbes contributor Robert Wood wrote about the recently signed antitax evasion pacts the United States now has with Bermuda, Malta, the Netherlands, Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man.

“That ups the total to eighteen with eleven more near completion,” he stated. “Some of them are reciprocal, requiring the IRS to disclose foreign citizen accounts in the United States, but it’s clear the reverse is key. Worldwide, banks are identifying Americans and asking if they’re right with the IRS.

“In fact, banks and lawyer’s offices everywhere are abuzz with the scramble to hand over US account holder data,” Wood continued. “In Switzerland and many other countries, banks are asking their account holders and not giving them much time to act. Americans are wondering if they should respond, ignore the letters, close their accounts, or what.”

Duck Dynasty’s Cracker Barrel PR? Talk taxes
Robert Wood also gave his take about the controversy surrounding Phil Robertson, one of the stars of the reality TV show Duck Dynasty, who was suspended by the show’s network, A&E, after his antigay remarks in an interview with GQ.

“Does this compare in any way to the IRS mess of the last year? Well, the IRS targeting scandal got the IRS chief fired, lawsuits filed, and vitriolic congressional hearings,” Wood wrote for Forbes. “It sparked debates over politics, the Fifth Amendment, and the meaning of government service. The debates sparked by Mr. Robertson’s remarks may be more personal but will likely end much sooner.

“What won’t end soon is the income tax. Just about everyone hates it in one way or another. That’s what could make taxes a safe topic for Duck Dynasty or anyone else,” he continued. “Tax advice dispensed with homespun charm might play well. It would be good if it wasn’t tax protester advice (say about the income tax being unconstitutional). But most any tax advice would do.”

Three things beer aficionados can look forward to in 2014.
For all my fellow beer geeks, according to an article published on the Entrepreneur website.


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