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Tax Legislative History

Simple Approach

To conduct tax legislative history, you may have to look in more than one place, and understand more than resource.  There is no "right" way to go about it, but understanding what resources you have available to you will get you off to a fast start.

Look up the IRC section you need.  Federal tax law begins with the Internal Revenue Code, enacted by Congress in Title 26 of the United States Code (26 U.S.C). These can be found through our subscriptions to Westlaw, Lexis, or Bloomberg Law, but can also be found through the IRS website.

Find the credit for the section.  Note Public Law numbers (ex. P.L. 98-369) and dates.

Look for an already compiled legislative history for that section or P.L.  See Legislative History Resources on the left for links to these histories.  If no compiled history already exists, look up the P.L. number to find any bills, committee reports, etc. associated with it.  You can do this by searching for the P.L. on, or through a subscription database such as ProQuest Congressional (UST login required).

Focus on documents in order of their importance (and remember these cannot be cited as precedent, only explanatory):

  • Congressional Committee Reports/Conference Reports
  • Text of earlier or alternative versions of a bill
  • Floor Debates (Congressional Record)
  • Statement or testimony at Committee Hearings
  • Committee Prints
  • Presidential Signing Statements

Look at other documents from the IRS for context, decisions, and guidance.  A table of sources for IRS Materials can be found here.

Legislative history takes time and patience...a lot of it.  Don't forget that each section of the IRC cannot be read in isolation, so looking at one section and its associated legislative materials may not give you everything you need.  Be sure to perform the above steps for all sections necessary to get the full picture and ensure you're not missing a key element to the story.