The American Institute of CPAs held its annual ritual this week of visiting lawmakers’ offices on Capitol Hill to press the case for tax simplification, a ban on tax patent strategies, changes in tax-filing due dates, and other legislative priorities.

The visits coincided with the Institute’s Spring Meeting of Council, which traditionally takes place in Washington. This was certainly a good year for such a visit, with tax reform weighing heavily on the minds of lawmakers. Not only did AICPA members go to visit the Hill and make the rounds of their representatives’ and senators’ offices, but they also had several lawmakers pay a visit to the nearby J.W. Marriott hotel where the Council conference took place.

Among them was the newly minted chair of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who has a lot of experience with CPAs, as her father has been a member of the AICPA for over 40 years. He is also a sole practitioner, and Schultz discussed his experience running the small business that is his firm, during a speech Tuesday at the conference. She described the Small Business Jobs Act that was passed last year by Congress at the behest of the Obama administration and how that promises to increase lending to small businesses, while exempting capital gains taxes on investments in small businesses last year. She also noted the experiences of many of the CPAs in the audience whose job it is to help their small business clients.

“Make no mistake: small business is the engine of our economy and the accounting profession helps keep that engine running,” said Schultz.

Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, filled in for committee chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., in a speaking slot at the conference on Tuesday. Paulsen talked about how the new Republican leadership in the House is changing the way business is conducted there, with more work done in open committee meetings.

Other lawmakers who visited the conference included Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, and Steve Palazzo, R-Miss. Not only do they serve in Congress, but they’re also CPAs. Palazzo, a freshman congressman, got his start as a CPA serving in the Marines during the Persian Gulf War. He helped his fellow Marines with filing the necessary tax forms for those serving overseas. Later, upon returning to Mississippi, he opened his own CPA firm with his wife, Palazzo & Co., serving the needs of expatriate Americans living abroad.

Another freshman Congressman, Renacci has founded a series of businesses over the years, or invested in them through his financial consulting business after initially working as a CPA for Grant Thornton. Those businesses range from Harley Davidson dealerships to a championship pro football team and nursing homes. Later he went from being a volunteer firefighter to City Council president to mayor of the city of Wadsworth, Ohio, before he ran for Congress last year. However, over the years, he has continued to maintain his CPA license.

Since starting in Congress in January, the two men admitted to AICPA Chairman Paul Stahlin that they have experienced their share of frustrations with the process, including simply getting things done. For Renacci, one of the big frustrations is how meetings never seem to start anywhere near on time. That wasn’t the way things worked at Grant Thornton, he observed.

There are now a record number of eight CPAs in Congress, AICPA president and CEO Barry Melancon noted. Two other CPA Congressmen spoke at a luncheon Monday: Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Brad Sherman, D-Calif. They are also the founders of the bipartisan Congressional CPA Caucus, which aims to bring the thinking and ethics of the accounting profession to the problems of government (see CPA Congressman Doesn’t Want the IRS Preparing Returns). They support the AICPA’s legislative priorities, including making tax return due dates more flexible and logical. “It would be nice if you got the K-1 before you had to do the return,” Sherman noted.

He, Conaway, Renacci, Palazzo, and the other members of the profession in Congress hope to change the way business is done in Washington, whether it involves the debt ceiling, tax reform, the budget deficit, job creation or other pressing matters. As Renacci observed, “We need to start changing the culture here.”

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