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Tax Legislative History

Introduction

Researching federal tax statutes often involves legislative interpretations to either substantiate or undermine an interpretation of a provision.  First check to see if anyone else has already compiled a legislative history of the act you are researching.  See Legislative History Resources on the left for where to find these.

When compiling legislative materials for tax issues, be aware that committee reports are the most persuasive documents of legislative history. Generally, federal tax legislation begins in the House Ways and Means Committee where a subcommittee drafts a proposed bill which is presented to the full House for approval.  Once the House accepts it, the bill goes to the Senate where the Senate Finance Committee considers it and creates its own Senate bill draft.  When discrepancies arise, a Conference Committee made up of both Ways and Means and Senate Finance members, is formed to reconcile differences between the House and Senate bills.  The Conference Committee then creates a new bill reflective of these modifications. 

The House Way and Means, Senate Finance and Conference Committees create reports that make up the legislative history of the bill. The Joint Committee on Taxation, made up of members from the Ways and Means and Finance Committees, sometimes publishes a fourth report and conducts studies and assists the Ways and Means, Finance and Conference Committees in the bill drafting process.  After the enactment of significant tax code provisions, the JCT publishes the General Explanation also known as the "Bluebook" which provides useful explanations of  newly enacted tax acts.

Hierarchy of Sources

Legislative history is a primary source that provides guidance, but it should not be cited as legal authority. Courts can only look to the legislative history of a statute to “explain the meaning and purpose of a provision whose text is genuinely ambiguous.” Sherfel v. Newson, 768 F.3d 561, 569 (6th Cir. 2014).  The documents of legislative history for tax law research purposes are listed below, in the order of their importance:

1. Congressional Committee Reports / Conference Reports
2. Text of earlier or alternative versions of a bill
3. Floor Debates (Congressional Record)
4. Statements or testimony at Committee Hearings
5. Committee Prints
6. Presidential Signing Statements

Citing Legislative Materials

See Rule 13 of the Bluebook for how to cite Bills and Resolutions, Hearings, Reports, Documents, and Committee Prints, Debates, and Bound Legislative Histories