Last Friday, during the Vote-O-Rama on the Senate’s FY 2014 Budget Resolution, the Senate voted to approve an amendment offered by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) regarding the online sales tax issue. Sen. Durbin announced “75 U.S. Senators showed their support for the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013,” and characterized the amendment as “an amendment summarizing the bill.” Many news reports seemed to accept this portrayal implicitly, some even stating that the amendment “mirrors” the Marketplace Fairness Act, or that it was a “vote to include Marketplace Fairness.” However, as we stated earlier this week, the Durbin amendment does not a Marketplace Fairness Act make.

The amendment’s actual wording says that it is for “allowing States to enforce State and local use taxes already owed under State law on remote sales by the amounts provided in such legislation.” Is this an accurate summary of the Marketplace Fairness Act? Not unless “summarizing” means getting to leave out all of the details that make the bill so controversial in the first place. Does it “mirror” the bill? Not unless you use a mirror so blurry you are unable to make out the most basic features.

CCIA has previously listed the many problems with the Marketplace Fairness Act: the inaccurate commandeering of terms such as “fairness” and “level playing field” when the result would be unfairly greater collection burdens for online retailers; the mischaracterization of the physical presence standard as a “loophole”; the misuse of “states’ rights” to justify actions that would actually subordinate the interests and sovereignty of some states to that of others. The impassioned speeches given by opponents of the bill on the Senate floor signify that these issues remain controversial and still need to be deliberated by the world’s greatest deliberative body. Rather than disingenuously attempting to conflate support for a vague concept of use tax enforcement with support for their own bill, proponents need to justify the severing of physical presence from taxation, which the Finance Committee Chairman called “revolutionary”, and the need to draft online retailers into duty as nationwide tax collectors. “We want the revenue and it’s convenient,” is not an acceptable answer and this bill will not be ready until they come up with one that is.
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