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U.S. Congress tax panels welcome fresh faces

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) speaks to the 38th annual Conservative Political Action Conference meeting at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) speaks to the 38th annual Conservative Political Action Conference meeting at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel

By Patrick Temple-West

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The rosters of the powerful, tax-writing panels of the U.S. Congress were nearly filled out on Thursday, with three prominent Republicans named to the Senate Finance Committee.

At a time when tax-and-spending issues are at center stage, Republican Senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Rob Portman of Ohio are joining the finance panel. It is chaired by Montana Democrat Max Baucus.

Toomey in 2011 proposed a tax reform plan that included raising revenues - taboo to many Republicans. Portman was a top lieutenant to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and served as his debate-preparation sparring partner.

"Our tax code is in desperate need for a comprehensive overhaul," said Senator Orrin Hatch, the committee's top Republican, on Thursday in a statement. With the new Republican members on board, "we can and will achieve significant reforms."

The Republicans join two new Democrats on the committee: Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Michael Bennet of Colorado. They were named last month. Democrats, who control the Senate overall, have a 13 to 11 voting advantage on the committee.

Its make-up could change again soon if Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts is confirmed to be President Barack Obama's secretary of state.

Business lobbyists routinely patrol the hearing rooms and hallways of Capitol Hill's tax committees, whose members can gather in major campaign contributions.

Members of the Ways and Means Committee are among the top fund-raisers in the House, according to an April 2012 study by the Sunlight Foundation, a liberal-leaning campaign finance watchdog group.

In the House, Republicans Tim Griffin of Arkansas, Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania and Todd Young of Indiana have joined the Ways and Means Committee. New Democrats are Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania, Danny Davis of Illinois and Linda Sanchez of California.

Republicans control the House overall and hold a 23 to 16 voting advantage on Ways and Means. There is one Republican spot on the panel still to be filled. Republican Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, from Michigan, in November promised to pass a tax reform bill out of the committee in 2013.

Obama, in his November 7 presidential victory speech, called for an overhaul of the tax code.

(Reporting by Patrick Temple-West; Editing by Steve Orlofsky; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Steve Orlofsky)

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