The Republican leaders of Congress’s two main tax committees, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Finance Committee chairman Orin Hatch, R-Utah, have written a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew urging him to avoid pursuing an executive action by President Obama on tax reform.

The letter comes in response to a statement by White House press secretary Josh Earnest earlier this month suggesting that President Obama might be open to using his executive authority to close tax breaks for large corporations. The White House spokesman was asked by a reporter about a proposal from Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that the White House could raise as much as $100 billion through using executive action to close corporate loopholes. 

Earnest responded, “Well, for any sort of possible executive actions along those lines, I’d refer you to the Treasury Department.  But the President certainly has not indicated any reticence about using his executive authority to try to advance an agenda that benefits middle-class Americans. Now, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that there is some imminent announcement. There’s not, at least that I know of.”

Earnest was pressed by the reporter on whether an executive action was under consideration, and he answered, “Well, the President has asked his team to examine the array of executive authorities that are available to him to try to make progress on his goal.  So I’m not in a position to talk about any of those in any detail at this point, but the President is very interested in this avenue generally.”

In a letter Wednesday, Hatch and Ryan expressed their concerns to Lew that Obama might try to sidestep Congress through executive action. Instead they urged the administration to tackle unfavorable provisions in the tax code by working with Congress on comprehensive tax reform instead of taking unilateral action.

“It would be a significant setback if you decided to interpret or implement tax laws based on your political preference rather than the consensus that the tax reform process could produce,” they wrote. “It would also be significantly damaging to the economy to further the idea that, rather than working with stable rules of the road, tax and other laws will hereafter evolve according to the uncertain path of unilateral executive decisions followed by controversy, challenges, and mistrust. We urge you to work with the Congress on tax reform, rather than against it.”

They pointed out that the Constitution grants Congress the sole power to lay and collect taxes.

“While implementation of tax law often requires regulations, revenue rulings, notices, and other Executive Branch actions, this role is limited to carrying out the will of the Legislative Branch, rather than creating new policy,” said Ryan and Hatch. “Recent statements by Administration officials and even some in Congress seem to confuse that most basic constitutional arrangement.”

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