A second stimulus package is being formulated up on the Hill, but is by no means a done deal at this point.B Just before adjourning for the election, the House passed a $61 billion bill containing infrastructure spending, aid to state governments and increased unemployment benefits, which will likely serve as a starting point for second stimulus discussion.B That package included:

  • $30 billion for infrastructure projects including highways, bridges, transit and water projects;
  • $1 billion for public housing;
  • $2.6 billion for food stamp program;
  • A temporary increase in Federal Medicaid assistance to states; and
  • An extension in unemployment benefits.

Other items that could be contained in a second stimulus package include the Columbia Free Trade Agreement, middle class tax relief, and changes to the TARP program. Emily Barrett from the Wall Street Journal reports that Treasury is “under pressure to broaden eligibility for assistance to smaller banks, as well as the cash-strapped autos sector.” Other actions related to the stimulus include:

  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid met with the CEO’s of America’s automakers last week to discuss billions of dollars of additional assistance to the industry. The two leaders subsequently asked Treasury to make relief to the automakers part of the $700 billion TARP plan.
  • President-elect Obama made an economic stimulus his top priority at last week’s press conference. He indicated if one was not enacted during next week’s lame duck session, he would make it the first order of business in 2009. He also indicated that the package needed to focus on assisting the middle class with job creation and an extension of unemployment benefits.
  • RollCall reports that Majority Leader Hoyer (D-MD) is suggesting that, absent an agreement with the Bush administration — which he described as “elusive” — the House might not ask rank-and-file members to come back next week.

All this activity suggests that, while the odds of a package getting enacted are extremely high, it will probably be early next year before anything moves.

Endangered Tax Species — LIFO

Your S-CORP staff is tempted to create an Endangered Species List for tax provisions. Deferral and Section 199 would top the list as the most likely to be extinct before the end of the next Congress.

LIFO accounting is another. A subset of accounting and tax professionals have been pursuing LIFO for years, and they are closing in. The Joint Committee on Taxation — the tax professionals that Congress uses to help them assess changes to the tax code — fired another shot last week.

In its annual “Tax Expenditures” report, the Committee has for the first time (to our knowledge) listed LIFO. For those of you who don’t follow such things, a tax expenditure is a congressional concept identifying tax provisions that divert from the basic approach to taxing income and measuring the revenue lost by those provisions — tax credits, certain deductions, and lower rates on investment income all qualify as tax expenditures. The concept was first introduced into budget speak in the 1960s and has been highly controversial ever since.

Conservatives especially dislike the idea since it implies that all your income is the government’s and if the government chooses not to take it from you, then that’s the equivalent of giving you a subsidy. Supporters argue that the point is to give policy makers better information on how much certain tax policies reduce revenues so they can make better decisions.

Either way, getting LIFO listed as a tax expenditure gives LIFO opponents one more argument to make in attempting to repeal it.

We will write more on this in the future, but suffice to say that LIFO does not belong on the tax expenditures list anymore than FIFO does. Moreover, while the JCT states its goal in revising the methodology of the expenditure report was to create a more neutral approach, we’re not sure they succeeded.

Capital Gains and Dividends

We’ve written about the likelihood that the capital gains rate is going up in the next couple years. Lots of our members would like to know just when that is going to occur so they can plan accordingly.

The economic distress of the last year and the rising deficit opens the possibility that Congress could enact a rate hike next year but make it effective January 1, 2010. The outcome of the prospective effective date would be to stimulate economic activity — and federal revenues — in 2009. A similar rate increase adopted in 1986 (made effective January 1, 1987) resulted in an enormous increase in federal tax revenues in 1986 as taxpayers rushed to sell their assets and qualify for the lower rates.

As S-CORP readers know, we favor lower rates over higher ones, especially when the higher rates only apply to S corporations and not C corporations. That said, encouraging asset sales at a time when many investors and companies are being forced into asset fire sales already might not be the best policy. Encouraging sales of appreciated property into a bear market may have the opposite of the intended economic effect by further driving down asset prices for everyone.