Speeches & Floor Statements

Senate floor speech on Marketplace Fairness Act

Posted on April 23, 2013

I do believe in having regular order. I have been looking for it for quite a while on this bill. But let me start with exactly what the point of this bill is. This bill is about two words. It is about states’ rights. I say that as a former governor who cares a lot about states’ rights.

I see another former governor sitting in the chair up there. What this bill does is it allows the governor of Tennessee and the Legislature of Tennessee to decide whether to require out-of-state sellers in Tennessee to do the same thing we require of instate sellers in Tennessee. In other words, if the Nashville Boot Company has to collect the state sales tax and send it to the state government when it sells a pair of boots, then an out-of-state catalog seller or an out-of-state online seller who sells boots in Tennessee has to do the same thing. It is that simple.

It is an 11-page bill. That is a rarity around here, an 11-page bill. It doesn't make any of these decisions for the states; it just says the States can make that decision for themselves. With all respect to ourselves, I trust the Governor of Tennessee and the legislators of Tennessee to make tax decisions a lot more than I trust Washington politicians to make them.

This has nothing to do with the Federal Tax Code. It has zero to do with it. It has about as much to do with the Federal Tax Code as the milk production bill. Actually, milk production has more to do with the Federal Tax Code. This is about what a State can decide for itself.

If somebody from Ohio or Illinois wants to sell in Tennessee, they need to play by the same rules everybody in Tennessee has to play by -- the governor and Legislature of Tennessee ought to be able to decide that.

It is going to be done fairly. We have an equal protection clause in the Constitution that says you cannot treat an out-of-state seller in a different way than you do an instate seller, but that is the first point. This is about states’ rights. It is about the Tenth Amendment. It is about our saying: Yes, Governor, yes, legislature, you don't have to play ``Mother, may I?'' to the Congress. Make your own decisions about taxes. If you decide you want to treat one set of businesses differently than others and one set of taxpayers differently than others, you have the right to be wrong. That is your business. But if you decide you want to collect taxes that are already owed--that are already owed; this is not a new tax, taxes that are already owed--from everybody who owes the tax so you can lower your tax rate for everybody, you are free to decide that.

That was the argument Art Laffer made in the Wall Street Journal last week. Art Laffer was President Reagan's favorite economist. That is the point he made. States have the right to be right. He said this: States have the right to be wrong. But if Tennessee or Idaho or any state can collect taxes from everybody who owes them, it can lower the tax rate for everybody.

That is why so many conservative leaders support this, Art Laffer, Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, Gov. Mike Pence, Gov. Mitch Daniels--almost all the Republican governors support this. But all we are deciding here in this 11-page bill is two words: Do we respect states' rights to decide their own tax policy? Do we respect states’ rights as the Tenth Amendment suggests we do?

As far as regular order, I wish the Finance Committee had reported a bill. This legislation was first introduced in some form in 2001. As the chairman of the Finance Committee said, he had a hearing on part of it last year. That was good. The Commerce Committee had a hearing on almost this identical 11-page bill last August. There have been repeated requests of the chairman of the Finance Committee to report the bill. He has not. That is what rule XIV is about.

The majority leader said: If the committee is not going to hold a hearing and report the bill after that amount of time, then let's put it on the floor, let's debate it, let's amendment it.

It has been thoroughly considered. It has been before this body and the American people for a good bit of time. The bill we were to move to today is exactly the bill that was introduced on February 14 of this year, this 11 pages--exactly the bill. It has been out there for everybody to see all that time.

I urge the 75 senators who voted for this during the budget resolution to reaffirm their vote for states’ rights--at least vote tonight to move ahead, and let's debate it. Let's put it on the floor. If people have amendments or objections, let's bring them down here and let's debate them and vote on it.

Senator Heitkamp has pointed out that if we do not act, it will be one big mess. Instead of having a handful of jurisdictions where a seller can simply--when you buy your ice cream over at Williams-Sonoma and put in your credit card and ZIP Code, automatically the tax is collected by the seller out of state and sent to the state. Instead of that, you will have thousands of jurisdictions to contend with. This simplifies the process.

This is states’ rights. This is an opportunity to debate a bill that has been around for more than a decade and that the country has been able to see for a couple of months.

I urge our colleagues on both sides to take the conservative point of view and vote yes and move forward.