House votes 277-130 to extend tax breaks for charitable giving

The House on Friday passed legislation to extend tax breaks for charitable giving that expired at the end of last year.

Passed 277-130, the bill is the latest salvo in the fight between House Republicans and Democrats, including the White House, on extending tax breaks indefinitely.

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Republicans said extending the tax credits would boost Americans' charitable giving.

"Making this provision permanent will only serve to increase the donations that charities rely on," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). "We should do everything we can to encourage Americans to give more."

But Democrats, while generally supportive of the provisions, said the cost of an extension should be offset.

"All of us share the support for the charitable community," said Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

But, Levin added, "this is not about charities, this is not about giving. This is about fiscal responsibility. ... There's not a single tough choice in what Republicans are doing."

In its veto threat against the measure, the White House called it the latest sign of a GOP “double standard.” Democrats have argued that Republicans demanded offsets for a renewal of unemployment insurance, but not for tax breaks.

Thursday’s measure combined five separate proposals related to charitable giving into one bill. 

The bill would, for instance, extend and expand the charitable deduction for food donations and restore indefinitely a provision allowing tax-free contributions from certain retirement accounts.

It would also allow taxpayers to claim donations made until April 15 on their previous year’s tax return, extend a tax break for landowners that conserve their property, and reduce taxes for certain private foundations’ investment income.

Three of the proposals are among the collection of breaks, commonly known as tax "extenders," that expired at the end of 2013. The other two are new proposals. 

In all, the measure would cost roughly $16 billion over a decade.

That’s far less than some of the other tax breaks that Republicans have been pushing to extend indefinitely, including a quicker write-off for businesses, known as bonus depreciation, that the House approved last week. The House version of bonus depreciation would cost roughly $287 billion over a decade. 

Charitable groups, though, have given the measure a full-throated endorsement, with more than 800 organizations calling on Congress this week to pass the measure.

Camp has long said that extending some of the lapsed provisions with no expiration dates will help spur momentum for tax reform.

But his extensions also face an uphill struggle to becoming law. The Senate is seeking to extend most of the more than 50 expired provisions on a short-term basis.

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