The tax extenders front has been busy in the last couple days. First, there was the rumor Monday that negotiators were close to a deal. Tuesday, details emerged of a $450 billion package mixing ten permanent items with a two-year extension (2014 & 2015) of most other items. And then yesterday evening the White House issued a veto threat against the package, leaving its prospects very much up in the air.
What’s remarkable about the White House veto threat is that it occurred at all. To our recollection, this is the first time in six years the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have been publicly crosswise on legislative policy. Reid negotiated the package with House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp and it includes several provisions – including making the state and local tax deduction and the mass transit benefit permanent – that Reid and other senior members of his caucus have historically supported. So it’s obvious the Reid office and the White House are no longer in close communication, at least on tax matters. As the Hill reported:
Democratic aides on Capitol Hill said that the White House quickly made it clear Tuesday that it was, in the words of one staffer, “livid” over a deal that would have indefinitely extended tax priorities for both parties. Senior administration officials reached out to Democratic lawmakers to get that message across, aides added, with even Obama and Lew trying to marshal opposition. “This is a terrible deal for Democrats,” one aide said.
Moreover, we’re hearing that part of the White House’s motivation for blocking this package is their belief that doing so will generate momentum for corporate-only tax reform. This kind of reform has been roundly denounced for leaving out and penalizing a majority of the private sector businesses in this country, but the White House and Treasury have been much more active on that front and appear to believe that such a deal is possible. (We don’t.) Here’s what our friends at Capital Alpha had to say about that:
The President is making a deliberate and contemplated move to set the ground rules for discussions of fundamental tax reform and corporate tax reform next year with the incoming Republican majority. The President won’t talk about revenue neutral tax reform in a vacuum. His terms for tax reform include big payoffs for constituencies of the progressive left in terms of policy goals and economic benefits. Such has been his position all along, which is why we have always been skeptical of tax reform next year.
As to the package, it’s broad and includes lots for the pass-through community to like. For starters, it would make permanent two S corporation specific provisions – the shorter holding period for built-in gains and the basis adjustment for charitable donations – as well as popular provisions like the R&E tax credit and small business expensing. Here’s the complete summary from Tax Notes:
The deal would make permanent the following 10 provisions:
- the research credit, simplified according to the provisions in a House-passed bill (H.R. 4438) to make the credit permanent but also including the provision from the Senate Finance Committee package providing start-up businesses the ability to claim the credit against payroll taxes;
- section 179 expensing;
- the state and local sales tax deduction;
- the American opportunity tax credit, indexed to inflation after its renewal in 2018;
- the employer-provided mass transit and parking benefits exclusion;
- the reduced recognition period for built-in gains of S corporations;
- the rules regarding basis adjustments to the stock of S corporations making charitable contributions of property;
- the rule allowing some tax-free distributions from IRAs for charitable purposes;
- the deduction for charitable contributions by individuals and corporations of real property interests for conservation purposes; and
- the deduction for charitable contributions of food inventory.
The remainder of the package will mostly follow the extenders bill the Senate Finance Committee approved this spring to renew through 2015 all but two of the 55 traditional extenders that expired in 2013.
However, the deal will phase out the wind production tax credit, ending the incentive after 2017.
It also includes House-passed modifications to the bonus depreciation provision that would expand the definition of qualified property to include owner-occupied retail stores and lift restrictions to allow for more unused corporate alternative minimum tax credits, which businesses can claim in lieu of bonus depreciation, to be used for capital investment.
So where do things stand? We are hearing conflicting reports. One word from the Hill is that the deal is off and that negotiators will have to start over, probably with a one-year extension for 2014 only (Boo!). Other reports, however, suggest that Senate Democrats are not backing down. It is possible yesterday’s package could move through both the House and the Senate despite the White House’s objections, and we’re hearing some Senate offices are working the membership to make that happen.
With everybody home for Thanksgiving, we won’t have a better idea where the votes are and what Senate leadership decides to do until next week when everybody returns. In the meantime, the tax world has more than just turkey to chew over this holiday! Stay posted.