HELENA — U.S. Sen. Max Baucus said Friday that he is targeting the end of the year to reach a bipartisan agreement on a bill that improves and simplifies the federal tax code.
But even if negotiations go into 2014, Congress should be able to pass legislation in an election year — if it reforms a system that is outdated and overly complicated, the Senate Finance Committee chairman said.
"We have to make sure we have a system that makes us competitive," Baucus said.
Baucus spoke to reporters and supporters outside his family home in Helena in his first trip to Montana since announcing Tuesday that he wouldn't seek a seventh term.
The Montana Democrat, surrounded by his wife, son, daughter-in-law and stepson, explained his decision not to run in 2014 and laid out his legislative priorities for the remainder of his term.
He called his decision not to run again liberating.
"It's freedom. It's not being caught up in a lot of stuff maybe is not always a constructive use of my time back there," he said.
One of his priorities is tax reform, he said. Finance Committee members are now reviewing the different parts of the federal code, which has not been updated since 1986.
The system is burdensome to small businesses, and done right, a reform bill would free up the economy and unleash entrepreneurism, he said.
The goal is to eliminate a lot of deductions, credits and exclusions, but it is premature to say which ones, he said.
"Everything is on the table," he said.
He has formed a 15-person working group of Montanans to advise him and provide feedback on proposals that will be considered, he said.
The result of reform should be increased revenue, and Baucus said he anticipates a compromise would be eventually reached to use that money to both reduce the federal debt and to reduce rates for taxpayers.
He declined to say whether he would reconsider his vote against expanding background checks for gun purchases, saying that he is "open to new ideas" but he would have to see the specific proposals.
Baucus said he felt the pull to return to Montana permanently after traveling the state the last few months.
A big factor was the chance to live closer to his son, he said. Zeno Baucus is working for the U.S. attorney's office in Helena.
Baucus and his wife, Melodee Hanes, are building a house in Bozeman. He said they plan to live there full time once his term is over.