A group of CPAs headed to Capitol Hill yesterday in what has become an annual ritual as they pressed lawmakers to deal with the many issues that accountants and their clients are forced to wrestle with on a daily basis, including taxes and regulations.
The lobbying traditionally caps off the American Institute of CPAs’ Spring Meeting of Council in Washington, D.C. That may change next year, as the AICPA considers moving the meeting to another location. But CPAs make extremely effective advocates for the Institute’s priorities, and they are well instructed on what messages to deliver to lawmakers.
At the Council meeting yesterday, they received advice from AICPA officials on how to deal with lawmakers and their staff members, the most succinct way to deliver their “ask” for particular legislation they would like to see Congress finally pass, and what they should expect lawmakers to say. “How can I help you?” is the most frequent question they are likely to hear. The AICPA also held its Political Action Committee breakfast yesterday, raising $68,000 to lobby for its priorities.
Tax reform is the main priority of the Institute this time around. After what many tax practitioners would agree was a horrendous tax season this year, largely due to the New Year’s Day passage of fiscal cliff legislation to deal with the expired tax cuts, the need for tax reform is understandable. The AICPA provided CPAs with pages of talking points they could study before making the case to their elected representatives on Capitol Hill.
The AICPA’s priorities include the Tax Return Due Date Simplification and Modernization Act of 2013, which aims to improve tax administration by establishing a set of due dates and promote a “chronologically correct flow of information between pass-through entities and their owners,” according to the AICPA. It would make it easier for practitioners to meet tax return due dates when a Schedule K-1 arrives late, as they frequently do. The bill was introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wy., in the Senate, and Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., in the House. Both bills have Democratic co-sponsors.
Once again this year, the AICPA is backing the Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act of 2013, which would establish a uniform national standard for state nonresident income tax withholding in an effort to strike a balance between the interests of the states in taxing the work done within their borders and the needs of businesses to be able to operate efficiently.
Mark Peterson, the AICPA’s senior vice president of governmental and public affairs, noted that the bill managed to pass in the House last year, but stalled in the Senate (see House Approves Mobile Workforce Tax Relief Bill). The same bipartisan co-sponsors from last year, Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., and Hank Johnson, D-Ga., will be backing it this year.
Another priority is the Municipal Advisor Oversight Improvement Act, which also passed the House last year, but didn’t move in the Senate. The bill would exempt CPAs from a Dodd-Frank Act requirement that all financial advisors to municipalities register with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is planning to sponsor it, according to Peterson.
The AICPA is also supporting reforms to discourage patent-holding companies from filing frivolous lawsuits against alleged patent infringers. A “loser pays” bill is being introduced by Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, in the House. Another bill in the Senate by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would make it easier to challenge patents on business methods and have the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office invalidate them.
In addition, the Institute is throwing its support behind a bill that would modify the definition of fiduciary under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to make clear that appraisers of employee stock ownership plans are not fiduciaries under ERISA (see Congress Introduces Bill to Modify Definition of "Fiduciary" for ESOP Appraisers). The bill, H.R. 2041, was introduced Monday by Reps. Brett S. Guthrie, R-Ky., David Loebsack, D-Iowa, and Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., in response to a proposed regulation from the Labor Department. A companion bill, S. 273, was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., in February.
There are some signs of hope in Congress with more CPAs joining the ranks this year. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., who at 30 is the youngest member of Congress, was asked on Tuesday morning by AICPA president and CEO Barry Melancon about what his priorities will be. Besides joining the Bipartisan Congressional CPA Caucus that was created two years ago, Murphy said he hopes to introduce legislation to cut down on waste, fraud, abuse and duplication in the federal government, using findings from the Government Accountability Office.
Murphy has been making an effort to reach out across the aisle. “The partisanship is discouraging, but we were largely elected on a message of bipartisanship,” he said. He pointed out that the last few Congresses were elected on a “my way or the highway” message, but some of Congress’s latest freshman class were elected in the hopes of restoring some sense of bipartisanship. Murphy has started a group called United Solutions that aims to increase bipartisan cooperation in the halls of Capitol Hill. “No more my way or the highway,” he said.
A fellow member of the freshman class, Republican Tom Rice of South Carolina, is also a fellow CPA. He too spoke at the AICPA Council meeting. As Murphy and Rice are both CPAs and formerly worked at Deloitte, they decided to go as “dates” to President Obama’s State of the Union address. Democrats and Republicans in Congress were encouraged to do that this year to demonstrate some semblance of bipartisanship. Murphy and Rice both sat together, but Murphy found himself surrounded by members of the Tea Party. During the speech, he was often the only person standing to applaud Obama in his section of the audience, which he admitted felt a little uncomfortable.
Rice hopes to see more CPAs joining him, Murphy and the other eight CPAs in the caucus. “If there were more CPAs in Congress, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in,” he said.
Veteran CBS newsman Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’s Face the Nation, also spoke at the Council meeting about his experiences covering Congress and the Presidency, going back to the 1960s. He doesn’t see much evidence of bipartisanship. “We’re not any closer to breaking this gridlock,” he said. “This country is deeply divided and did not come together after the election.”
For more from the Spring Meeting of Council, see: