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Before retirement, Senator Baucus targets tax overhaul

Sen. Max Baucus, (D-MT) is questioned by media at the U.S. Capitol in Washington December 31, 2012. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert
Sen. Max Baucus, (D-MT) is questioned by media at the U.S. Capitol in Washington December 31, 2012. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

By Kim Dixon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A day after announcing he will retire from Congress in 2014, Democrat Max Baucus said he will spend much of his remaining time as a senator stepping up his bid to revamp the complex U.S. tax code.

To speed up the process, Baucus said he is eyeing expiration of the federal government's borrowing authority - coming in late July or early August - as a vehicle for this project, he said on Wednesday.

"There are .. the potential beginnings of a solution here," said the Montana lawmaker in an interview with Reuters. "We are thinking that through in my office right now."

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus and his staff have been working on a tax overhaul bill for more than a year and may offer it up "soon," he said, giving no specifics.

The announcement on Tuesday that Baucus, 71, will retire surprised many fellow Democrats. A centrist known for often clashing with more-liberal party leaders, Baucus made clear that he does not plan to coast to the finish line.

It would be hard to choose a legacy project more challenging than federal tax reform, which has been tried by others, but not successfully since President Ronald Reagan managed it in 1986.

An important factor is working in Baucus's favor. Dave Camp, his counterpart in the U.S. House of Representatives, is now working on the same schedule. Camp will lose his chairmanship of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee in late 2014.

Like Baucus, Camp and his staff for many months have been laying the groundwork for tax reform. Like Baucus, Camp has vowed to produce a bill this year. Unlike Baucus, Camp is a Republican and therein lies their chief obstacle.

Partisan division over fiscal policy is severe and deep, with many Democrats hoping to raise additional tax revenues through tax law changes and Republicans opposed to this.

In this political climate, tax reform will be a heavy lift, many observers say.

"It is up to me, in many respects, to find that process, which I am going to figure out in the next few days, and pick some proposals when we get back after the recess," Baucus said. Congress is out of session next week.

(Reporting By Kim Dixon; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Eric Beech)

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