Reid blocks Republican amendments to tax bill

Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday swiftly blocked Republicans from proposing any amendments to a tax breaks bill, after the Senate proceeded to the legislation in a voice vote.

Democrats will need at least five Republicans to join them in overcoming the final procedural hurdle before passage.

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Reid prevented Republican amendments to the tax bill through a procedure known as "filling the amendment tree."

He could still allow his “filler” amendments to be tabled in order to hold votes on other proposals, but it’s unclear whether he will. Reid has allowed few amendments on legislation this year, infuriating Republicans who say he is running the upper chamber like a dictatorship.

Reid's move to file cloture on the EXPIRE Act sets up a procedural vote around 2 p.m. on Thursday; however, work will continue into next week since it is being considered as an amendment to House bill.

The Hire More Heroes Act, H.R. 3474, is serving as the legislative vehicle for the tax breaks bill, S. 2260, which passed unanimously out of committee. The Senate will also have to vote to end debate on the underlying House bill before final passage.

The cloture vote Thursday is on the amendment from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), which is the bill language of the EXPIRE Act.

The more than $85 billion tax bill has bipartisan support and would extend more than 50 credits for two years. But Republicans have also called for the consideration of their own amendments. A fight over amendments killed an energy efficiency bill earlier this week.

Democrats have argued that, if Republicans block the tax bill, it would harm the economy because many tax credits expired at the beginning of the year and should be renewed.

The underlying House bill that will be used as the vehicle for the tax breaks legislation would allow companies to not treat veterans as full-time employees under the ObamaCare employer mandate. The House passed H.R. 3474 in March, making it easier for the Senate to send the bill back to the House with the tax extender package as an amendment.

The House and Senate are taking different approaches to tax policy this year. The Senate is passing shorter extensions as has been done in the past, while the House is trying to decide which tax breaks should become part of the permanent tax code.

Last week, the House passed a “permanent” research and development (R&D) tax extension without offsets. The R&D credit, which has been extended on a short-term basis for nearly 30 years, expired at the end of last year along with more than 50 other tax breaks. The $156 billion House bill extended just the R&D tax provision.

Lawmakers overseeing tax policy have indicated that a final deal to extend all of the expired credits might not come until after the midterm elections. Senate Finance Committee leaders also want permanent extensions but say they need more time to reach such a deal.

“There will not be another extenders bill on my watch,” Wyden said Wednesday. “This is it.”

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