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Brady Unveils Tax Reform 2.0 Framework

The House’s top tax writer has unveiled Republicans’ “Tax Reform 2.0” framework. The framework outlines three key focus areas:

  • making permanent the individual and small business tax cuts enacted under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) ( P.L. 115-97);
  • promoting family savings by streamlining retirement savings accounts and creating a new Universal Savings Account; and
  • spurring business innovation by allowing new businesses to write off more initial start-up costs.

Tax Reform 2.0

The GOP’s tax reform “phase two” framework—otherwise known as “Tax Cuts 2.0″—was released by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Tex. on July 24. The outline is expected to be used for GOP “listening sessions” to be held among lawmakers.

Brady has said that making permanent the TCJA’s individual and small business tax cuts, enacted last December temporarily through 2025, will be the “centerpiece” of the next tax reform package. Further, Brady told reporters on July 24 that he anticipates Tax Reform 2.0 to move forward as three separate tax bills. A House vote on the package is expected sometime in September.

Preliminary Analysis

Republicans’ Tax Reform 2.0 framework is a “good start,” according to a July 24 report released by the independent, yet widely-considered conservative-leaning, think tank Tax Foundation. The report praised the framework’s proposal to streamline retirement savings accounts and make permanent the TCJA’s individual tax cuts. Additionally, the Tax Foundation estimates that making permanent the individual tax cuts set to expire in 2026 would grow the U.S. economy by 2.2 percent while reducing federal revenue by $165 billion annually on a static basis.

Democrats Disagree

However, several Democratic lawmakers began issuing statements criticizing the Tax Reform 2.0 framework shortly after its release. Democrats have remained united in their disapproval of the TCJA, criticizing last year’s tax code overhaul for primarily benefiting the wealthy and corporations.

“Republicans’ first tax bill exposed the party’s real priorities: big corporations and people at the top,” House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Richard Neal, D-Mass., said in a July 24 statement. “This new framework is more of the same – it rewards the well-off and well-connected, fails to reinstate the state and local tax deduction, and leaves the middle class behind.”

Corporate Tax Cuts

The Tax Reform 2.0 framework did not include a proposal to further reduce the corporate tax rate. President Trump has called for lowering the corporate tax rate to 20 percent. The corporate tax rate was lowered from 35 to 21 percent last December under the TCJA. Brady previously told reporters that House Republicans and the White House are continuing discussions on the idea.

Tax Reform 3.0, 4.0

“Tax Reform 2.0 is a new commitment to improve the tax code each and every year for American families and local businesses,” the framework says. Congress will examine the tax code each year to identify areas of needed improvement, according to the outline. Additionally, Brady has said he hopes to see a Tax Reform 3.0, 4.0, and so on.

Senate
At this time, the Tax Reform 2.0 package is not expected to clear the Senate in its entirety. It is thought on Capitol Hill that Democrats may support measures that focus on retirement and education savings and business innovation. However, several lawmakers view it as unlikely that Democrats would support a bill that makes permanent the individual tax cuts under the TCJA.

Brady has reportedly said that extending TCJA’s individual provisions would increase the deficit by $600 billion over 10 years but would be offset, at least in part, by beneficial economic factors. Several Senate Democrats and Republicans have said they would not vote for extending or creating tax cuts that increase the federal deficit.

Proposed Regs on Pass-Through Deduction Generate Mixed Reviews

The IRS’s proposed pass-through deduction regulations are generating mixed reactions on Capitol Hill. The 184-page proposed regulations, REG-107892-18, aim to clarify certain complexities of the new, yet temporary, Code Sec. 199A deduction of up to 20 percent of income for pass-through entities. The new deduction was enacted through 2025 under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), ( P.L. 115-97). The pass-through deduction has remained one of the most controversial provisions of last year’s tax reform.

A legislative package that would make permanent the pass-through deduction, as well as other individual tax cuts, is expected to move though the House this fall. However, the House’s legislative efforts are not expected, at this time, to pass muster in the more narrowly GOP-controlled Senate.

Criticism

Several Democratic lawmakers and tax policy experts have already started to weigh in on the proposed regulations, which were released on August 8 while Congress remained in its annual August recess. Democrats have criticized the new deduction for primarily benefiting the wealthy. Meanwhile, several tax policy experts have taken to Twitter to note that the deduction is overly complex and administratively burdensome.

Senate Finance Committee (SFC) ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has reportedly said that the proposed regulations “confirm that the fortunate few win,” under the new tax law. “Tax planners are already scouring through the nearly 200 pages of regulations in search of new ways to keep wealthy clients from paying their fair share.”

Compliance Burdens

The pass-through deduction could add 25 million hours to taxpayers’ annual reporting burden, according to the proposed regulations. Additionally, the IRS has estimated that gross reporting annualized costs to taxpayers will total approximately $1.3 billion over 10 years.

Furthermore, the IRS has estimated that the compliance burden will vary between taxpayers, averaging between 30 minutes and 20 hours. The administrative burden on smaller pass-through entities is anticipated to be on the lower end of the estimate, according to the IRS.

Comment. One legal expert said that the IRS’s 25 million-hour estimate, whether accurate or not, suggests that there will be a significant increase in administrative compliance costs. “There is a real cost to tax compliance in lost time and productivity for taxpayers,” he said. However, it’s predicted that taxpayers’ Code Sec. 199A compliance burden will eventually decrease. “Time will reveal the extent of taxpayers’ administrative burden to comply; however, it is likely that as time goes on the taxpayers’ compliance burden will fall as taxpayers, tax practitioners, and the Service all become more familiar with section 199A and how it is intended to operate.”

Meanwhile, the chairs of the House and Senate tax writing committees have both praised Treasury and the IRS for quickly releasing the much anticipated regulations. Additionally, several tax policy experts have also praised the proposed regulations for alleviating confusion, as well as taxpayer anxiety, about ambiguous provisions of the law.

“This first-ever 20 percent deduction for small businesses allows our local job creators to keep more of their money so they can hire, invest, and grow in their communities,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Tex., said in a statement. “These proposed regulations are intended to provide certainty and flexibility for Main Street businesses in this historic new small business deduction.”

Improvements to the proposed regulations are expected in the coming months as stakeholders submit comments. A public hearing at IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C., has been scheduled for October 16. “Evolution of tax regulations is generally never a pretty process, but it is a necessary process that in this case will hopefully happen sooner rather than later,” Kelly told Wolters Kluwer.

IRS Releases Guidance for Section 199A Pass-Through Deduction

The IRS has released long-awaited guidance on new Code Sec. 199A, commonly known as the “pass-through deduction” or the “qualified business income deduction.” Taxpayers can rely on the proposed regulations and a proposed revenue procedure until they are issued as final.

Code Sec. 199A allows business owners to deduct up to 20 percent of their qualified business income (QBI) from sole proprietorships, partnerships, trusts, and S corporations. The deduction is one of the most high-profile pieces of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act ( P.L. 115-97).

In addition to providing general definitions and computational rules, the new guidance helps clarify several concepts that were of special interest to many taxpayers.

Trade or Business

The proposed regulations incorporate the Code Sec. 162 rules for determining what constitutes a trade or business. A taxpayer may have more than one trade or business, but a single trade or business generally cannot be conducted through more than one entity.

Taxpayers cannot use the grouping rules of the passive activity provisions of Code Sec. 469 to group multiple activities into a single business. However, a taxpayer may aggregate trades or businesses if:

  • each trade or business is itself a trade or business;
  • the same person or group owns a majority interest in each business to be aggregated;
  • none of the aggregated trades or businesses can be a specified service trade or business; and
  • the trades or businesses meet at least two of three factors which demonstrate that they are in fact part of a larger, integrated trade or business.

Specified Service Business

Income from a specified service business generally cannot be qualified business income, although this exclusion is phased in for lower-income taxpayers.

A new de minimis exception allows some business to escape being designated as a specified service trade or business (SSTB). A business qualifies for this de minimis exception if:

  • gross receipts do not exceed $25 million, and less than 10 percent is attributable to services; or
  • gross receipts exceed $25 million, and less than five percent is attributable to services.

The regulations largely adopt existing rules for what activities constitute a service. However, a business receives income because of an employee/owner’s reputation or skill only when the business is engaged in:

  • endorsing products or services;
  • licensing the use of an individual’s image, name, trademark, etc.; or
  • receiving appearance fees.

In addition, the regulations try to limit attempts to spin-off parts of a service business into independent qualified businesses. Thus, a business that provides 80 percent or more of its property or services to a related service business is part of that service business. Similarly, the portion of property or services that a business provides to a related service business is treated as a service business. Businesses are related if they have at least 50-percent common ownership.

Wages/Capital Limit

A higher-income taxpayer’s qualified business income may be reduced by the wages/capital limit. This limit is based on the taxpayer’s share of the business’s:

  • W-2 wages that are allocable to QBI; and
  • unadjusted basis in qualified property immediately after acquisition.

The proposed regulations and Notice 2018-64, I.R.B. 2018-34, provide detailed rules for determining the business’s W-2 wages. These rules generally follow the rules that applied to the Code Sec. 199 domestic production activities deduction.

The proposed regulations also address unadjusted basis immediately after acquisition (UBIA). The regulations largely adopt the existing capitalization rules for determining unadjusted basis. However, “immediately after acquisition” is the date the business places the property in service. Thus, UBIA is generally the cost of the property as of the date the business places it in service.

Other Rules

The proposed regulations also address several other issues, including:

  • definitions;
  • basic computations;
  • loss carryovers;
  • Puerto Rico businesses;
  • coordination with other Code Sections;
  • penalties;
  • special basis rules;
  • previously suspended losses and net operating losses;
  • other exclusions from qualified business income;
  • allocations of items that are not attributable to a single trade or business;
  • anti-abuse rules;
  • application to trusts and estates; and
  • special rules for the related deduction for agricultural cooperatives.

Effective Dates

Taxpayers may generally rely on the proposed regulations and Notice 2018-64 until they are issued as final. The regulations and proposed revenue procedure will be effective for tax years ending after they are published as final. However:

  • several proposed anti-abuse rules are proposed to apply to tax years ending after December 22, 2017;
  • anti-abuse rules that apply specifically to the use of trusts are proposed to apply to tax years ending after August 9, 2018; and
  • if a qualified business’s tax year begins before January 1, 2018, and ends after December 31, 2017, the taxpayer’s items are treated as having been incurred in the taxpayer’s tax year during which business’s tax year ends.

Comments Requested

The IRS requests comments on all aspects of the proposed regulations. Comments may be mailed or hand-delivered to the IRS, or submitted electronically at www.regulations.gov (indicate IRS and REG-107892-18). Comments and requests for a public hearing must be received by September 24, 2018.

The IRS also requests comments on the proposed revenue procedure for calculating W-2 wages, especially with respect to amounts paid for services in Puerto Rico. Comments may be mailed or hand-delivered to the IRS, or submitted electronically to Notice.comments@irscounsel.treas.gov, with “ Notice 2018-64” in the subject line. These comments must also be received by September 24, 2018.