Wyden: Reid has been ‘exceptionally helpful’ on tax bill

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Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Thursday said waiting to renew $85 billion in tax breaks is bad for business and suggested a bill could move forward this summer.

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The tax package, known as "extenders" in Washington, stalled in the Senate last month as Republicans protested how Democrats are running the upper chamber. They're upset that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hasn't allowed GOP senators to offer amendments on the legislation, while mostly supporting the bill.

Asked earlier this week whether the bill would have to wait until the lame-duck session after the election, Reid said: "I guess the answer is, 'Yes.' "

Wyden apparently is hearing a different message.

"First of all, in all of my conversations with the leadership the message has always been keep reaching out, keep trying to find common ground," Wyden said on Thursday.

"This idea that somehow you can just do this around the road and that everything is going to work out someday and it will be all taken care of? That does not reflect what employers are telling me," he said. "[But] the majority leader has been exceptionally helpful in this cause."

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials typically release drafts of their forms in September to let businesses plan. Such releases trickle down everywhere from Main Street tax preparers to tax software companies that program the forms.

The extenders delay is the latest instance of businesses feeling squeezed by uncertainty coming from Washington. And while most observers expect the extenders bill to eventually pass, the political theater leading up to it is a headache for businesses.

Last year, when similar delays in taking action occurred, the IRS announced that no tax returns could be filed until around Feb. 1, and some forms were not available until even later. The IRS delayed the start of the tax-filing season last year by about a week, blaming the government shutdown. 

"I think it's well known that on important measures like this when you wait until very late in the year — I'll be diplomatic — they have administrative challenges," Wyden said.

Republicans are criticizing Reid for the delay. Senate Finance Committee member Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) called it "discouraging." 

"That's discouraging because frankly, we should have done it long ago. We should not keep lurking like this and particularly, doing it retroactively," Crapo said. "I think it's a huge discouragement and roadblock to capital formation and investment, which trickles into jobs and economic growth."

The Senate failed in May to end debate on a tax extenders package authored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Reid needed 60 votes to clear a procedural hurdle to bring the bill to a vote.

Republicans wanted to offer amendments that would repeal the medical device tax in the Affordable Care Act, setting up a contentious political battle in a midterm election year.

"He doesn't want amendments," Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said. "If he would run the Senate like the Senate ought to be run — that could be passed in less than a week. Now we have this uncertainty — and that's bad for business." 

Meanwhile, the House has taken a different approach on extenders. Instead of moving one bill for a two-year extension, the House's tax-writing committee has taken a piecemeal approach. The House Ways and Means Committee has begun approving a handful of bills that would make certain individual bills permanent.