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Levin Brothers Latch On to Tax Return Matter

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
An opponent of offshore tax havens, Sen. Carl Levin this year attached a provision to the Senate’s highway bill that would have allowed the Justice Department to combat tax avoidance.

Democratic Sen. Carl Levin (Mich.), Sander Levin’s younger brother, has been criticizing the abuse of offshore tax accounts long before the current presidential election cycle.

Sen. Levin is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

“We’ve had hearings on this throughout the decades,” he said. “We’ve gone through schemes, after schemes, after schemes when offshore tax havens were used to avoid paying taxes.”

Earlier this year, he attached a provision to the Senate’s highway bill that would have given the Justice Department authority to combat tax avoidance. He blasted House GOP negotiators for stripping the language in the House-Senate transportation conference.

“That vote by the House allows the wealthy and powerful to continue dodging the taxes they owe, increasing the tax burden on American families who abide by the law and their tax obligations,” he said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

The Levin brothers are not alone. Senior Senate Democrats have embraced the attacks on Romney over his position on tax returns and use of offshore tax havens.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has repeatedly cited Romney’s tax records during press conferences and speeches on the Senate floor, and his top leadership lieutenants have joined in the messaging campaign.

For instance, Majority Whip Dick Durbin joined Sen. Levin at a pen-and-pad briefing with reporters Wednesday to promote a bill that would require Members of Congress and presidential candidates to disclose holdings in offshore tax shelters.

The Illinois Democrat was not shy in discussing the motivation for the renewed push for the bill, which he introduced in March with fellow Democratic Sen. Al Franken (Minn.).

“My research suggests that Mitt Romney is the first presidential candidate in American history with a Swiss bank account,” Durbin said.

“It raises questions. Why does he not want to provide the same information his father provided? George Romney set the standard: 12 years of income tax returns when he ran for president. That was the standard for presidential candidates,” he added. “His son has produced one year and said he may produce one more.”

Sen. Levin said Durbin’s disclosure bill has obvious merit.

“Anything which can bring to light and make transparent what has been going on is valuable, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Durbin said he would try to attach his proposal to the next moving vehicle on the Senate floor that allows nongermane amendments.

For his part, Rep. Levin said in a Wednesday conference call that he hopes at least some Republicans sign on to the bill and that it can become a long-term push to increase disclosure among candidates for public office.

“I think the more people think about this, the more they realize that there is a responsibility for people who want to become perhaps the most important leader in the entire world,” he said.

 

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