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Federal Tax: Legislative History

Sources of information on Federal income tax law at the MU Law Library. Designed for MU Law students / Last updated by Annaleigh Hobbs, JD '25

Legislative Process

Tax legislative history, at its core, is the history of the law making process - the process of a bill becoming a law and the documents that are produced along the way.  The process used to enact tax legislation generally parallels that used for federal laws.  For more detail on federal legislative histories see the law library's guide here.

1.  Introduction of a Bill

The sponsoring legislator may provide remarks that are included in the Congressional Record when a bill is introduced. 
Revenue-raising bills must originate in the House of Representatives.

2.  Committee Action

a.  House Ways & Means; Senate Finance; Conference
After the bill is introduced it is referred to the appropriate committee.  The House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Finance have primary jurisdiction over revenue bills.  Each committee (or subcommittee) may hold hearings which will be published and issue a committee report if a bill is reported out of committee.  

The committee bill can die in one house, pass intact, or pass with amendments.  If it passes, it then goes to the other house, which repeats the process.  If House and Senate versions differ a Conference Committee meets to resolve differences and can produce a report as well.  This document is usually numbered as a House Report.

b.  Joint Committee on Taxation
Five members each from Ways and Means and from Finance sit on a separate Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT).  Its reports lack the interpretive significance of those issued by Ways and Means and Finance Committees.  JCT publishes a post-enactment General Explanation (known as the "Blue Book"). 

3.  House and Senate Floor Debate
Bills reported out of committee are debated on the floor of the appropriate house.  Discussion of the bill during any congressional debate appears in the Congressional Record.  Questions and answers and other statements made during floor debate can illuminate the meaning of legislation.

4.  Subsequent Changes
Unlike treaties, bills die when a Congress's second session ends.  Members work under pressure to complete major legislation by that date.  Under these circumstances, a conference report's version of a bill may contain errors, which Congress passes along with the rest of the bill.  If both houses agree, a Concurrent Resolution can be used to make necessary changes before the act is enrolled for submission to the President.  If they cannot agree, or they find errors too late, a technical corrections bill is inevitable.

5.  Presidential Action
The President has four options:  (1) The bill becomes law if the President signs it within ten days of its presentment.  (2) It also becomes law if the President does nothing so long as Congress remains in session during that period. (3) Alternatively, the President can veto the bill; Congress can override a veto only by two-thirds vote in each chamber.  (4) If the President does nothing and the congressional session ends during the ten-day period, the bill is "pocket-vetoed." 

The President may issue a statement when signing or vetoing a bill.


Electronic Resources - Tax Legislative History

Taxation Databases focusing on tax federal legislative history include:  

Taxation & Economic Reform in America Parts I & II, 1781-2010
:  Historical archive containing legislative history materials, including nearly 42 years of legislation related to the internal revenue laws from 1909-1950.  
Online Resource:  Heinonline.  Heinonline can be accessed off-campus by entering a username and password or the name of the school you attend.

Seidman's Legislative History of Excess Profits Tax Laws
Online Resource:  Heinonline
The aim of this book is to reveal "intent" behind Congressional legislation, specifically meaning of the federal excess profits tax laws and interpretive significance in Congressional publications, from the beginning of excess profits tax legislation (1917) to 1946.

Seidman's Legislative History of Federal Income and Excess Profits Tax Laws 1953-1939
Online Resource:  Heinonline
Traces the history of each provision of the 1939 code.  Covering the years 1939-1954 in inverse chronology, a collection of the texts of United States congressional committee reports, Congressional Records, reports of hearings, and laws passed or rejected, relating to all of the income tax provisions of the Revenue Acts that are of interpretive significance, this legislative history will be of interest to those arguing or ruling on tax cases. A continuation of Seidman's Legislative History of Federal Income Tax Laws 1938-1861, with the addition of extensive material relating to excess profit tax laws.

Seidman's Legislative History of Federal Income Tax Laws 1938-1861
Online Resource:  Heinonline
Traces the legislative history of tax laws enacted before the first major codification in 1939.  Provides legislative history of federal income tax laws as they have proceeded through Congress and will be useful to those arguing or ruling on tax cases. The work collects the texts of the committee reports and discussions on the floor of Congress relating to all of the income tax provisions of the Revenue Acts from 1861 to 1938 that are of interpretive significance. Material is arranged act by act in inverse chronology.

Comparison Tables

Tables are essential to trace the history of a particular Code section. The 1954 and 1986 Codes have similar section numbering, while the 1939 Code is numbered differently. Before the 1939 Code, there were individual Revenue Acts.

Barton's Federal Tax Laws Correlated ; the Federal Income, Estate, and Gift Tax Laws, from the Revenue Act of 1913 to the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, as amended.
Location:  MU Law Library 3rd floor PRACTICE KF 6335 .A3 1968, volumes 1-6.
Also available on Heinonline.

Tables Comparing Provisions of the Internal Revenue Codes of 1939 and 1986
Title 26 of the U.S. Code includes tables showing the corresponding sections of the 1939 and 1986 Internal Revenue Codes.

Derivations of the Code Sections of the Internal Revenue Codes of 1939 and 1954.  Prepared by the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Location:  MU Law Library 2nd floor GOV DOCS FED Y 4.T 19/4:D 44/2
Also available on Heinonline.

United States Statutes at Large (Appendix in volume 68A following text of 1954 Code - this will cross-reference the 1954 and 1939 Codes)
Location:  MU Law Library 1st floor FEDERAL
Also available on Heinonline.

Print Resources - Tax Legislative History

Tax Management Primary Sources
print:  MU Law Library 3rd floor PRACTICE KF 6365 .T39 
online:  for 1986-present see Bloomberg Law Tax Practice Management Center - Tax Legislation

Seidman's legislative history of federal income tax laws, 1938-1861
Location:  MU Law Library 3rd floor PRACTICE KF 6355.8 1938 

Seidman's legislative history of federal income tax laws, 1953-1939
Location:  MU Law Library 3rd floor PRACTICE  KF 6355.8 1954

Electronic Resources - Federal Legislative History (General)

Legislative Databases for MU Law include:

ProQuest Congressional:  Indexes, abstracts, and some full-text of congressional publications. Includes:Bills & Laws 1987-Present, Vote Report 1987-Present, Committee Prints & Misc. Publications 1830-Present, Congressional Record Bound Edition & Predecessors 1789-1997, Congressional Record Daily Edition 1985-Present, CRS Reports 1916-Present, Hearings 1824-Present, House & Senate Documents 1970-Present, House & Senate Reports 1970-Present, Serial Set 1980-2003

ProQuest Legislative Insight:   Coverage: 1929 - current. Federal legislative history resource comprised of fully searchable PDFs of congressional legislative documents. These include the full text of the Public Law itself, all versions of related bills, law-specific Congressional Record excerpts, committee hearings, reports, and prints.  Also included are Presidential signing statements, CRS reports, and miscellaneous congressional publications that provide background material to aid in the understanding of issues related to the making of the law.    

U.S. Congressional Serial Set:  A digital collection of reports, documents, and journals of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives which constitutes a rich source of primary source material on all aspects of American history from 1817 - 1980(15th Congress - 96th Congress).