A new House bill would blow up the massive IRAs of the superwealthy

Legislation currently making its way through Congress would take a sledgehammer to the massive individual retirement accounts built up tax-free by a select group of the ultrawealthy.

The proposal, which is part of the infrastructure and tax package advancing in the House, targets the jaw-dropping IRAs accumulated by multimillionaires and billionaires such as tech investor Peter Thiel, which were first reported by ProPublica earlier this year. Those accounts — Thiel's alone was worth $5 billion in 2019 — have allowed some super-wealthy Americans to turn their Roth IRAs, tools meant to incentivize middle-class retirement saving, into supersized tax shelters.

The proposed reform, put forward by House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., would effectively cap the total amount someone could hold in a Roth at $20 million and compel the holders of the giant accounts to withdraw anything over that limit. Separately, individuals would have to add up the balances of their retirement accounts — including Roths, traditional IRAs, 401(k)s and 403(b)s — and every year withdraw half of any amount over $10 million. The provisions would only apply to individuals with taxable income of over $400,000 or couples making over $450,000.

The reform wouldn't affect the overwhelming majority of Americans, whose retirement savings (if they have any) are far more modest — the average Roth was worth just $39,108 at the end of 2018.

“Incentives in our tax code that help Americans save for retirement were never intended to enable a tax shelter for the ultra-wealthy," Neal said earlier this year. “We must shut down these practices."

Should the bill pass, it could have profound implications for PayPal founder Thiel, whose gargantuan Roth stunned lawmakers, spurring Neal to vow a crackdown. Thiel wouldn't owe any tax up front and no early withdrawal penalties would apply, but he'd be required to move billions out of the tax-advantaged account. And any gains on investments made with that money would no longer be sheltered from taxes, potentially creating hundreds of millions of dollars in future tax liabilities.

The great appeal of the Roth IRA is that once money is inside it, any income generated — such as capital gains from selling a stock, investment interest or dividends — is tax-free, as long as the holder waits until he or she is 59 and a half to withdraw it. (Thiel hits that mark in 2027.) In a traditional IRA, by contrast, money that's withdrawn counts as income and is taxed.

The IRA reforms are part of a slate of proposals designed to eliminate loopholes and boost tax rates on rich individuals and corporations.

Several of the changes address revelations contained in The Secret IRS Files, a series of ProPublica stories published this year that are exploring the ways the very richest Americans avoid paying taxes. Usually such efforts remain secret, but ProPublica has obtained a trove of tax records covering thousands of the country's richest people. The records reveal not only the diverse array of tax-avoidance techniques used by the rich, but also that some of the very richest have consistently found ways to avoid taking income, so they pay little or no taxes, even as their wealth multiplied to historic levels.

The current House plan falls short of President Joe Biden's more ambitious proposals to combat wealth inequality through the tax code. But experts say it would significantly increase the taxes paid by high-income Americans. Among other things, it would all but eliminate a major deduction created by President Donald Trump's 2017 tax law that, as ProPublica recently reported, showered massive tax breaks on some of the richest families in the country.

Given the stakes for a small group of wealthy and powerful Americans, it's unclear whether the IRA proposal, along with the rest of the package, will become law. It must pass the House and make it through the Senate, where it will likely need the votes of all 50 Democratic senators to pass. Capitol Hill staffers say the bill remains fluid and provisions could still be cut, added or modified.

For now, however, the proposal has alarmed those who stand to lose the most. Three tax lawyers told ProPublica that clients with giant IRAs have reached out to them, worried about the potential reforms. Already a lawyer and an accountant are offering a paid webinar that pitches strategies to help owners of large IRAs get around the proposed rules.

A spokesman for Thiel didn't respond to a request for comment.

The tax proposals have drawn opposition from Republicans on Capitol Hill. “This is very bad news for the U.S. economy," said Ways and Means Committee ranking member Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, in an interview this week.

A budget analyst at the anti-tax Heritage Foundation specifically criticized the IRA reform proposals as “stifling retirement savings and decreasing the economy-wide investment in future productivity."

Neal announced his plans to curb the size of mega IRAs in July following ProPublica's story revealing how Thiel and other billionaires had amassed giant retirement accounts using techniques largely unavailable to most taxpayers. Other wealthy investors with giant retirement accounts included financier Michael Milken, Warren Buffett and executives from investment giant Bain Capital.

Neal joined his Senate counterpart, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who had been pushing for reform of mega IRAs for years without much support from his peers.

With a multibillion-dollar tax-free account on the line, a wealthy investor might try to keep his income below the $400,000 threshold set by the proposal. In Thiel's case, it's not clear if that would be possible, given that he's long reported tens of millions of dollars on his tax returns from capital gains, interest and dividends on investments he holds outside of his Roth IRA. And even if he has to withdraw billions from his Roth, he will never have to pay taxes on years of growth inside the account.

ProPublica has previously reported that several billionaires have had very little taxable income in certain years, including Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Musk did not respond to questions for that story and Bezos' representatives would not designate someone to accept questions related to that story.

The proposal would also add restrictions in areas that congressional investigators have said are ripe for abuse by the wealthy: The owners of IRAs would be barred from using the accounts to either purchase certain nonpublic investments or buy stakes in companies in which they are an officer.

Thiel launched his Roth IRA by purchasing so-called founder's shares of PayPal in 1999 when he was chairman and CEO of the company, according to tax records and a financial statement Thiel included in his application for residency in New Zealand. Securities and Exchange Commission records show he bought 1.7 million shares for $1,700, or a tenth of a penny per share. (The maximum contribution to a Roth that year was $2,000.) PayPal later told the SEC the shares were sold “below market value."

The practice has become popular among the founders of Silicon Valley companies, who tuck shares of their startups into IRAs, often after buying them at bargain prices. This can sidestep IRA contribution limits and generate massive tax-free growth if the value of their companies explodes.

The proposal would also shut down the so-called backdoor Roth. ProPublica found that billionaires like Buffett had taken advantage of a maneuver, known as a conversion, that allows the wealthy to sidestep existing income caps to create a Roth IRA. In a conversion, the owner of a traditional IRA can transform it into a Roth by paying one-time tax on the money. Once the account is converted into a Roth, no additional income taxes are ever due. The new provision would bar conversions for individuals with income over $400,000, though the ban would not go into effect until 2031 for budgetary reasons. (Buffett previously didn't respond to questions about his IRA.)

The proposal also has implications for the holders of giant traditional IRAs, who could suddenly owe a hefty tax bill. Money withdrawn from a traditional IRA counts as taxable income. Milken, the 1980s junk bond king who went to prison for fraud and was later pardoned by Trump, had traditional IRAs valued at $509 million at the end of 2018, according to tax records. If the law passed, Milken could face a tax bill of roughly $100 million, depending on the current size of his account. A spokesperson for Milken declined to comment.

Separately, another part of the bill would tackle the generous business income deductions granted by Trump's 2017 tax law.

As ProPublica previously reported, the drafting of the deduction was marked by last-minute changes and a rush of lobbying dollars from corporations and the superrich. The result of its passage, confidential tax records show, was a windfall for billionaires such as media mogul Michael Bloomberg, packaging tycoons Dick and Liz Uihlein, and the Bechtel family, owners of a global engineering and construction firm.

Bloomberg received a deduction of roughly $183 million in 2018 alone as a result of the provision, while the Uihleins netted around $118 million.

Under the House proposal, the deduction would be capped at $400,000 for an individual and $500,000 for a couple, virtually wiping it out for the very rich. If such a cap had been in place in 2018, for example, the Uihleins would have gotten a deduction worth just $500,000 instead of $118 million. A competing Senate proposal unveiled by Wyden in July would go even further. A spokesperson for the Uihleins declined to comment on the proposed reforms.

On a broader level, the House plan would spell a significant tax hike on Americans earning more than $400,000, raising their individual income tax rates as well as bumping up the corporate tax rate, the first such hikes in a decade.

But despite the proposal's ambition, critics say it misses a rare opportunity to capture the massive untaxed wealth of some of the richest individuals in history, including Bezos and Musk, who have often found ways to keep their income low.

As ProPublica reported, they and other billionaires have managed to pay little to no taxes in the past. Some have done so by pursuing the so-called buy, borrow, die strategy. By holding on to his Tesla stock but borrowing money to finance his lifestyle, Musk, for example, can avoid income that is taxable under current law. If he sticks to this strategy till death, the income tax liability on his fortune will evaporate for his heirs.

Some Democrats and policymakers had aspired to even bolder tax code changes that would have targeted the stratospheric increases in the ultrawealthy's riches. One idea, championed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., would be to levy a so-called wealth tax on billionaires' overall holdings. Another, pushed by Wyden, would tax the annual gains billionaires logged, even if they hadn't sold the assets. Both ideas foundered, with concerted opposition from billionaires and skittishness from Democratic centrists. Some critics point out that wealth taxes have often failed in other countries. And many policymakers believe it would be too logistically difficult to measure assets properly and enforce such a sweeping rule on gains.

Secret IRS files reveal how much the ultrawealthy gained by shaping Trump’s 'Big Beautiful Tax Cut'

In November 2017, with the administration of President Donald Trump rushing to get a massive tax overhaul through Congress, Sen. Ron Johnson stunned his colleagues by announcing he would vote “no."

Making the rounds on cable TV, the Wisconsin Republican became the first GOP senator to declare his opposition, spooking Senate leaders who were pushing to quickly pass the tax bill with their thin majority. “If they can pass it without me, let them," Johnson declared.

Johnson's demand was simple: In exchange for his vote, the bill must sweeten the tax break for a class of companies that are known as pass-throughs, since profits pass through to their owners. Johnson praised such companies as “engines of innovation." Behind the scenes, the senator pressed top Treasury Department officials on the issue, emails and the officials' calendars show.

Within two weeks, Johnson's ultimatum produced results. Trump personally called the senator to beg for his support, and the bill's authors fattened the tax cut for these businesses. Johnson flipped to a “yes" and claimed credit for the change. The bill passed.

The Trump administration championed the pass-through provision as tax relief for “small businesses."

Confidential tax records, however, reveal that Johnson's last-minute maneuver benefited two families more than almost any others in the country — both worth billions and both among the senator's biggest donors.

Dick and Liz Uihlein of packaging giant Uline, along with roofing magnate Diane Hendricks, together had contributed around $20 million to groups backing Johnson's 2016 reelection campaign.

The expanded tax break Johnson muscled through netted them $215 million in deductions in 2018 alone, drastically reducing the income they owed taxes on. At that rate, the cut could deliver more than half a billion in tax savings for Hendricks and the Uihleins over its eight-year life.

But the tax break did more than just give a lucrative, and legal, perk to Johnson's donors. In the first year after Trump signed the legislation, just 82 ultrawealthy households collectively walked away with more than $1 billion in total savings, an analysis of confidential tax records shows. Republican and Democratic tycoons alike saw their tax bills chopped by tens of millions, among them: media magnate and former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg; the Bechtel family, owners of the engineering firm that bears their name; and the heirs of the late Houston pipeline billionaire Dan Duncan.

Usually the scale of the riches doled out by opaque tax legislation — and the beneficiaries — remain shielded from the public. But ProPublica has obtained a trove of IRS records covering thousands of the wealthiest Americans. The records have enabled reporters this year to explore the diverse menu of options the tax code affords the ultrawealthy to avoid paying taxes.

The drafting of the Trump law offers a unique opportunity to examine how the billionaire class is able to shape the code to its advantage, building in new ways to sidestep taxes.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was the biggest rewrite of the code in decades and arguably the most consequential legislative achievement of the one-term president. Crafted largely in secret by a handful of Trump administration officials and members of Congress, the bill was rushed through the legislative process.

As draft language of the bill made its way through Congress, lawmakers friendly to billionaires and their lobbyists were able to nip and tuck and stretch the bill to accommodate a variety of special groups. The flurry of midnight deals and last-minute insertions of language resulted in a vast redistribution of wealth into the pockets of a select set of families, siphoning away billions in tax revenue from the nation's coffers. This story is based on lobbying and campaign finance disclosures, Treasury Department emails and calendars obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, and confidential tax records.

For those who benefited from the bill's modifications, the collective millions spent on campaign donations and lobbying were minuscule compared with locking in years of enormous tax savings.

A spokesperson for the Uihleins declined to comment. Representatives for Hendricks didn't respond to questions. In response to emailed questions, Johnson did not address whether he had discussed the expanded tax break with Hendricks or the Uihleins. Instead, he wrote in a statement that his advocacy was driven by his belief that the tax code “needs to be simplified and rationalized."

“My support for 'pass-through' entities — that represent over 90% of all businesses — was guided by the necessity to keep them competitive with C-corporations and had nothing to do with any donor or discussions with them," he wrote.

By the summer of 2017, it was clear that Trump's first major legislative initiative, to “repeal and replace" Obamacare, had gone up in flames, taking a marquee campaign promise with it. Looking for a win, the administration turned to tax reform.

“Getting closer and closer on the Tax Cut Bill. Shaping up even better than projected," Trump tweeted. “House and Senate working very hard and smart. End result will be not only important, but SPECIAL!"

At the top of the Republican wishlist was a deep tax cut for corporations. There was little doubt that such a cut would make it into the final legislation. But because of the complexity of the tax code, slashing the corporate tax rate doesn't actually affect most U.S. businesses.

Corporate taxes are paid by what are known in tax lingo as C corporations, which include large publicly traded firms like AT&T or Coca-Cola. Most businesses in the United States aren't C corporations, they're pass-throughs. The name comes from the fact that when one of these businesses makes money, the profits are not subject to corporate taxes. Instead, they “pass through" directly to the owners, who pay taxes on the profits on their personal returns. Unlike major shareholders in companies like Amazon, who can avoid taking income by not selling their stock, owners of successful pass-throughs typically can't avoid it.

Pass-throughs include the full gamut of American business, from small barbershops to law firms to, in the case of Uline, a packaging distributor with thousands of employees.

So alongside the corporate rate cut for the AT&Ts of the world, the Trump tax bill included a separate tax break for pass-through companies. For budgetary reasons, the tax break is not permanent, sunsetting after eight years.

Proponents touted it as boosting “small business" and “Main Street," and it's true that many small businesses got a modest tax break. But a recent study by Treasury economists found that the top 1% of Americans by income have reaped nearly 60% of the billions in tax savings created by the provision. And most of that amount went to the top 0.1%. That's because even though there are many small pass-through businesses, most of the pass-through profits in the country flow to the wealthy owners of a limited group of large companies.

Tax records show that in 2018, Bloomberg, whom Forbes ranks as the 20th wealthiest person in the world, got the largest known deduction from the new provision, slashing his tax bill by nearly $68 million. (When he briefly ran for president in 2020, Bloomberg's tax plan proposed ending the deduction, though his plan was generally friendlier to the wealthy than those of his rivals.) A spokesperson for Bloomberg declined to comment.

Johnson's intervention in November 2017 was designed to boost the bill's already generous tax break for pass-through companies. The bill had allowed for business owners to deduct up to 17.4% of their profits. Thanks to Johnson holding out, that figure was ultimately boosted to 20%.

That might seem like a small increase, but even a few extra percentage points can translate into tens of millions of dollars in extra deductions in one year alone for an ultrawealthy family.

The mechanics are complicated but, for the rich, it generally means that a business owner gets to keep an extra 7 cents on every dollar of profit. To understand the windfall, take the case of the Uihlein family.

Dick, the great-grandson of a beer magnate, and his wife, Liz, own and operate packaging giant Uline. The logo of the Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, firm is stamped on the bottom of countless paper bags. Uline produced nearly $1 billion in profits in 2018, according to ProPublica's analysis of tax records. Dick and Liz Uihlein, who own a majority of the company, reported more than $700 million in income that year. But they were able to slash what they owed the IRS with a $118 million deduction generated by the new tax break.

Liz Uihlein, who serves as president of Uline, has criticized high taxes in her company newsletter. The year before the tax overhaul, the couple gave generously to support Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. That same year, when Johnson faced long odds in his reelection bid against former Sen. Russ Feingold, the Uihleins gave more than $8 million to a series of political committees that blanketed the state with pro-Johnson and anti-Feingold ads. That blitz led the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to dub the Uihleins “the Koch brothers of Wisconsin politics."

Johnson's campaign also got a boost from Hendricks, Wisconsin's richest woman and owner of roofing wholesaler ABC Supply Co. The Beloit-based billionaire has publicly pushed for tax breaks and said she wants to stop the U.S. from becoming “a socialistic ideological nation."

Hendricks has said Johnson won her over after she grilled him at a brunch meeting six years earlier. She gave about $12 million to a pair of political committees, the Reform America Fund and the Freedom Partners Action Fund, that bought ads attacking Feingold.

In the first year of the pass-through tax break, Hendricks got a $97 million deduction on income of $502 million. By reducing the income she owed taxes on, that deduction saved her around $36 million.

Even after Johnson won the expansion of the pass-through break in late 2017, the final text of the tax overhaul wasn't settled. A congressional conference committee had to iron out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill.

Sometime during this process, eight words that had been in neither the House nor the Senate bill were inserted: “applied without regard to the words 'engineering, architecture.'"

With that wonky bit of legalese, Congress smiled on the Bechtel clan.

The Bechtels' engineering and construction company is one of the largest and most politically connected private firms in the country. With surgical precision, the new language guaranteed the Bechtels a massive tax cut. In previous versions of the bill, construction would have been given a tax break, but engineering was one of the industries excluded from the pass-through deduction for reasons that remain murky.

When the bill, with its eight added words, took effect in 2018, three great-great-grandchildren of the company's founder, CEO Brendan Bechtel and his siblings Darren and Katherine, together netted deductions of $111 million on $679 million in income, tax records show.

And that's just one generation of Bechtels. The heirs' father, Riley, also holds a piece of the firm, as does a group of nonfamily executives and board members. In all, Bechtel Corporation produced around $2.3 billion of profit in 2018 alone — the vast majority of which appears to be eligible for the 20% deduction.

Who wrote the phrase — and which lawmaker inserted it — has been a much-discussed mystery in the tax policy world. ProPublica found that a lobbyist who worked for both Bechtel and an industry trade group has claimed credit for the alteration.

In the months leading up to the bill's passage in 2017, Bechtel had executed a full-court press in Washington, meeting with Trump administration officials and spending more than $1 million lobbying on tax issues.

Marc Gerson, of the Washington law firm Miller & Chevalier, was paid to lobby on the tax bill by both Bechtel and the American Council of Engineering Companies, of which Bechtel is a member. At a presentation for the trade group's members a few weeks after Trump signed the bill into law, Gerson credited his efforts for the pass-through tax break, calling it a “major legislative victory for the engineering industry." Gerson did not respond to a request for comment.

Bechtel's push was part of a long history of lobbying for tax breaks by the company. Two decades ago, it even hired a former IRS commissioner as part of a successful bid to get “engineering and architectural services" included in one of President George W. Bush's tax cuts.

The company's lobbying on the Trump tax bill, and the tax break it received, highlight a paradox at the core of Bechtel: The family has for years showered money on anti-tax candidates even though, as The New Yorker's Jane Mayer has written, Bechtel “owed almost its entire existence to government patronage." Most famous for being one of the companies that built the Hoover Dam, in recent years it has bid on and won marquee federal projects. Among them: a healthy share of the billions spent by American taxpayers to rebuild Iraq after the war. The firm recently moved its longtime headquarters from San Francisco to Reston, Virginia, a hub for federal contractors just outside the Beltway.

A spokesperson for Bechtel Corporation didn't respond to questions about the company's lobbying. The spokesperson, as well as a representative of the family's investment office, didn't respond to requests to accept questions about the family's tax records.

Brendan Bechtel has emerged this year as a vocal critic of President Joe Biden's proposal to pay for new infrastructure with tax hikes.

“It's unfair to ask business to shoulder or cover all the additional costs of this public infrastructure investment," he said on a recent CNBC appearance.

As the landmark tax overhaul sped through the legislative process, other prosperous groups of business owners worried they would be left out. With the help of lobbyists, and sometimes after direct contact with lawmakers, they, too, were invited into what Trump dubbed his “big, beautiful tax cut."

Among the biggest winners during the final push were real estate developers.

The Senate bill included a formula that restricted the size of the new deduction based on how much a pass-through business paid in wages. Congressional Republicans framed the provision as rewarding businesses that create jobs. In effect, it meant a highly profitable business with few employees — like a real estate developer — wouldn't be able to benefit much from the break.

Developers weren't happy. Several marshaled lobbyists and prodded friendly lawmakers to turn things around.

At least two of them turned to Johnson.

“Dear Ron," Ted Kellner, a Wisconsin developer, and a colleague wrote in a letter to Johnson. “I'm concerned that the goal of a fair, efficient and growth oriented tax overhaul will not be achieved, especially for private real estate pass-through entities."

Johnson forwarded the letter from Kellner, a political donor of his, to top Republicans in the House and Senate: “All, Yesterday, I received this letter from very smart and successful businessmen in Milwaukee," adding that the legislation as it stood gave pass-throughs “widely disparate, grossly unfair" treatment.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, responded with a promise to do more: “Senator — I strongly agree we should continue to improve the pass-through provisions at every step. You are a great champion for this." Congress is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, but Treasury officials were copied on the email exchange. ProPublica obtained the exchange after suing the Treasury Department.

Kellner got his wish. In the final days of the legislative process, real estate investors were given a side door to access the full deduction. Language was added to the final legislation that allowed them to qualify if they had a large portfolio of buildings, even if they had small payrolls.

With that, some of the richest real estate developers in the country were welcomed into the fold.

The tax records obtained by ProPublica show that one of the top real estate industry winners was Donald Bren, sole owner of the Southern California-based Irvine Company and one of the wealthiest developers in the United States.

In 2018 alone, Bren personally enjoyed a deduction of $22 million because of the tax break. Bren's representatives did not respond to emails and calls from ProPublica.

His company had hired Wes Coulam, a prominent Washington lobbyist with Ernst & Young, to advocate for its interests as the bill was being hammered out. Before Coulam became a lobbyist, he worked on Capitol Hill as a tax policy adviser for Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Hatch, then the Republican chair of the Senate Finance Committee, publicly took credit for the final draft of the new deduction, amid questions about the real estate carveout. Hatch's representatives did not respond to questions from ProPublica about how the carveout was added.

ProPublica's records show that other big real estate winners include Adam Portnoy, head of commercial real estate giant the RMR Group, who got a $14 million deduction in 2018. Donald Sterling, the real estate developer and disgraced former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, won an $11 million deduction. Representatives for Portnoy and Sterling did not respond to questions from ProPublica.

Another gift to the real estate industry in the bill was a tax deduction of up to 20% on dividends from real estate investment trusts, more commonly known as REITs. These companies are essentially bundles of various real estate assets, which investors can buy chunks of. REITs make money by collecting rent from tenants and interest from loans used to finance real estate deals.

The tax cut for these investment vehicles was pushed by both the Real Estate Roundtable, a trade group for the entire industry, and the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts. The latter, a trade group specifically for REITs, spent more than $5 million lobbying in Washington the year the tax bill was drafted, more than it had in any year in its history.

Steven Roth, the founder of Vornado Realty Trust, a prominent REIT, is a regular donor to both groups' political committees.

Roth had close ties to the Trump administration, including advising on infrastructure and doing business with Jared Kushner's family. He became one of the biggest winners from the REIT provision in the Trump tax law.

Roth earned more than $27 million in REIT dividends in the two years after the bill passed, potentially allowing him a tax deduction of about $5 million, tax records show. Roth did not respond to requests for comment, and his representatives did not accept questions from ProPublica on his behalf.

Another carveout benefited investors of publicly traded pipeline businesses. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, added an amendment for them to the Senate version of the bill just before it was voted on.

Without his amendment, investors who made under a certain income would have received the deduction anyway, experts told ProPublica. But for higher-income investors, a slate of restrictions kicked in. In order to qualify, they would have needed the businesses they're invested in to pay out significant wages, and these oil and gas businesses, like real estate developers, typically do not.

Cornyn's amendment cleared the way.

The trade group for these companies and one of its top members, Enterprise Products Partners, a Houston-based natural gas and crude oil pipeline company, had both lobbied on the bill. Enterprise was founded by Dan Duncan, who died in 2010.

The Trump tax bill delivered a win to Duncan's heirs. ProPublica's data shows his four children, who own stakes in the company, together claimed more than $150 million in deductions in 2018 alone. The tax provision for “small businesses" had delivered a windfall to the family Forbes ranked as the 11th richest in the country.

In a statement, an Enterprise spokesperson wrote: “The Duncan family abides by all applicable tax laws and will not comment on individual tax returns, which are a private matter." Cornyn's office did not respond to questions about the senator's amendment.

The tax break is due to expire after 2025, and a gulf has opened in Congress about the future of the provision.

In July, Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., proposed legislation that would end the tax cut early for the ultrawealthy. In fact, anyone making over $500,000 per year would no longer get the deduction. But it would be extended to the business owners below that threshold who are currently excluded because of their industry. The bill would “make the policy more fair and less complex for middle-class business owners, while also raising billions for priorities like child care, education, and health care," Wyden said in a statement.

Meanwhile, dozens of trade groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, are pushing to make the pass-through tax cut permanent. This year, a bipartisan bill called the Main Street Tax Certainty Act was introduced in both houses of Congress to do just that.

One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, pitched the legislation this way: “I am committed to delivering critical relief for our nation's small businesses and the communities they serve."

Congress scraps provision to restrict IRS from competing with TurboTax

Congressional leaders are planning to scrap a provision of an IRS reform bill making permanent the Free File deal between the government and private tax filing companies, torpedoing a long-sought goal by industry giant Intuit, the maker of TurboTax.

Keep reading... Show less

New evidence emerges of possible wrongdoing by Trump Inaugural committee

Federal prosecutors in New York are circling Donald Trump’s inaugural committee as part of a wide-ranging investigation into possible money laundering, illegal contributions and cash-for-access schemes. Now, WNYC and ProPublica have identified evidence of potential tax law violations by the committee.

Keep reading... Show less

Russian oligarch-linked firm that paid Michael Cohen was also represented by Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz

The news on Tuesday that the same shell company that Michael Cohen, a longtime personal lawyer for Donald Trump, had used to pay $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels had also received about $500,000 in 2017 from a firm linked to a Russian oligarch set off a frenzy of commentary on Twitter and cable TV.

Keep reading... Show less

Jared Kushner somehow made even more mistakes in his federal ethics disclosure filing

Jared Kushner’s ethics disclosure filing misstated the financials on two Brooklyn loans, the latest in a long series of errors and omissions on the form.

Keep reading... Show less

This bank was under investigation until Trump got elected -- and now it's involved in multiple Kushner deals

A bank that had been under federal investigation until last year has played a role in two recent real estate transactions involving Kushner Companies, Jared Kushner’s family company.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump administration hires official accused of sexually assaulting five men

A political appointee hired by the Trump administration for a significant State Department role was accused of multiple sexual assaults as a student several years ago at The Citadel military college.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump is hiring a small army of lobbyists and a top ethics official says 'there is no transparency'

President Trump has stocked his administration with a small army of former lobbyists and corporate consultants who are now in the vanguard of the effort to roll back government regulations at the agencies they once sought to influence, according to an analysis of government records by the New York Times in collaboration with ProPublica.

Keep reading... Show less

How Trump could kill a plan to get you overtime pay

Donald Trump ran for president as the billionaire who would champion working people.

Keep reading... Show less

Red Cross: How we spent Hurricane Sandy money is a 'trade secret'

Just how badly does the American Red Cross want to keep secret how it raised and spent over $300 million after Hurricane Sandy?

Keep reading... Show less

Cuomo promised 'sunlight' but New York officials keep their emails in the shadows

Adopting a tactic that has been used by officials ranging from Sarah Palin to staffers of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are sending emails from private accounts to conduct official business.

Keep reading... Show less

NSA releases rule violations to journalists that are almost entirely blacked out

Last week, the Washington Post published an internal audit finding the NSA had violated privacy rules thousands of times in recent years.

Keep reading... Show less

NSA rejects reporters' information request because no 'central method' to search its emails

The NSA is a "supercomputing powerhouse" with machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second. The agency turns its giant machine brains to the task of sifting through unimaginably large troves of data its surveillance programs capture. 

Keep reading... Show less

Dark money group lied to IRS about attacking Democratic House candidate

Shortly before Election Day last year, mailers went out to Texas voters featuring pictures of a Democratic congressional candidate and a rare species of spider, whose discovery had forced stoppage of an important highway construction project.

Keep reading... Show less

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Raw Story Investigates and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.