Senate Finance turns to expired tax breaks

Greg Nash

The Senate Finance Committee will consider dozens of expired tax incentives on Tuesday, as Congress starts up its semi-regular routine of restoring the preferences retroactively. 

Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), unveiled a package to restore more than 50 expired tax breaks for two years on Friday, with a price tag of some $95.6 billion over a decade.

{mosads}Dozens of tax breaks expired at the end of last year, just weeks after lawmakers clinched a deal to restore them for 2014. Hatch said Friday that Congress needed to act quickly, with the so-called tax extenders already expired.

“This is the first time in 20 years where a new Congress has started with extenders legislation having already expired, and given that these provisions are meant to be incentives, we need to advance a package as soon as possible,” Hatch said in a statement. 

Wyden echoed those thoughts, while also saying tax writers needed to end the start-and-stop cycle for extenders. “We need to extend these tax provisions now in order to provide greater certainty and predictability for middle class families and businesses alike,” the Oregon Democrat said.

But while both Hatch and Wyden said they want to act quickly, there’s no guarantee that will happen. House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has so far pursued a different tactic, with his chamber voting to revive some of the incentives permanently. 

Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and former Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) came close to clinching a broader deal on the expired incentives last year that would have extended some for good. But President Obama and House Democrats helped scuttle the deal, which they thought tilted too far to the right, leading to the one-year deal in December.

The expired tax breaks include incentives for individuals, businesses and the energy sector. In fact, one of the reasons that extender packages have historically gotten bipartisan approval is that lawmakers are often strong supporters of at least a couple of the expired preferences.

One of the more controversial incentives, the production tax credit for renewable energy, would get another two years under the Senate plan. A tax break for electric motorcycles, one of Wyden’s favorites, is also in the Finance measure after being left out of the one-year deal.

The business incentives in the package include the popular credit for research and development, an incentive for companies that hire veterans or people receiving welfare benefits and a provision that allows companies to more quickly write off incentives.

Other business breaks in the package have gotten wide criticism as corporate pork, including an incentive for race track owners, Puerto Rican rum producers and race-horse owners.

On the individual side, the Finance proposal includes preferences for workers who use mass transit and teachers that spend money on supplies.

Tags Harry Reid Orrin Hatch Paul Ryan Ron Wyden

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