Congress should just say no to more green energy handouts
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Politicians have rightly railed against pork barrel spending for years, but unfortunately, their actions don’t always match their words.

Whenever a must-pass bill crosses the floors of Congress, many of these same politicians clamor to load them up with handouts for special interests. One case in point is the ongoing effort to renew a package of tax giveaways for green energy that expired back in 2015.

Expected participants in this latest effort include Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperTrump states would bear brunt of gas tax increase: conservative groups Trump talk riles advocates on both sides of gas tax Senate bill would let EPA implement global greenhouse gas deal MORE (D-Del.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsAfter Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Sunday shows preview: Russian charges, Florida shooting dominate coverage MORE (D-Del.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampSenate rejects Trump immigration plan Cramer to announce North Dakota Senate run on Friday Senate Democrats not sold on bipartisan immigration deal MORE (D-N.D.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseCommittee chairman aims for House vote on opioid bills by Memorial Day Regulators seek to remove barriers to electric grid storage Prison sentencing bill advances over Sessions objections MORE (D-R.I.), Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottAfter Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward GOP senator: FBI failure in Florida shooting 'a separate issue' from Russia probe Sunday shows preview: Russian charges, Florida shooting dominate coverage MORE (R-S.C.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (R-S.C.). The group will reportedly seek must-pass unrelated legislative vehicles such as government funding bills and negotiations on the debt ceiling so these handouts can catch a ride.

The expired tax provisions under consideration — around $1.4 billion pertaining to things like wind power and geothermal heat pumps — are little more than corporate welfare and were wisely and intentionally allowed to expire. The $680 billion tax extender package signed into law in December 2015 made some tax provisions permanent and allowed more than two dozen others to expire at the end of that year. This was a deliberate effort to lay the groundwork for comprehensive tax reform, which lawmakers are currently negotiating.

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The practice of awarding billions to private interests through the tax code makes it harder to enact real comprehensive tax reform. Distorting the tax code to favor politically connected special interests means that regular American households and businesses across the country face a heavier tax burden. Keeping these loopholes in the tax code will impede lawmakers from bringing down marginal tax rates and broadening the tax base.

 

Despite this, quiet efforts to extend these giveaways has continued over the past two years — first on legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Authorization (FAA), and then again on a tax extenders package at the end of 2016 that never came to fruition. Proponents of extending the expired tax credits consistently argued they should have been given the same five-year extensions that other wind- and solar-related breaks received as part of the omnibus legislation, which was also signed into law in December 2015. 

Thankfully for American taxpayers, efforts to extend this “green pork” face an uphill battle in Congress. Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnBlackburn pushes back on potential Corker bid: 'I'm going to win' Nervous GOP seeks new 2018 Senate candidates in three states Corker 'listening closely' to calls to reconsider retirement MORE (R-Tenn.) led a “Dear Colleague” letter with 30 other House lawmakers in expressing opposition to adding in tax carve-outs for favored energy into unrelated legislation reauthorizing the FAA. On the Senate side, Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March Outgoing GOP rep: Republican Party 'heading into trouble' in election MORE (R-Ariz.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework Prison sentencing bill advances over Sessions objections Grassley ‘incensed’ by Sessions criticism of proposed sentencing reform legislation MORE (R-Utah), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and now Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsUnder pressure, Trump shifts blame for Russia intrusion Overnight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand MORE sent a similar letter to Senate leadership.

Extending these expired handouts also faces strong opposition from conservative organizations. A year ago, my organization, Americans for Prosperity, led a coalition of more than 30 conservative groups in criticizing this effort, sending a letter to the Senate Finance Committee urging the committee to exclude them. We were disappointed to see the tax credits included during committee on the Senate side, but pleased to see Congress ultimately agree to exclude them.

Lawmakers should not be looking toward must-pass legislation considered under the threat of deadline as vehicles to extend expired tax subsidies for renewable energy and other industries. They should instead hold firm and oppose extending these expired subsidies in favor of permanent comprehensive tax reform.

American taxpayers shouldn’t have to prop up large, well-connected special interests through tax handouts, carve-outs and loopholes — but that’s exactly what would happen if Congress extends these credits.

Christine Harbin (@ChrissyHarbin) is vice president of external affairs for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group that promotes for lower taxes and limited government. She leads the group’s federal lobbying efforts, including energy and environment issues.


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