The Hill
September 19, 2012

Democrats make last-minute stab at tax extenders

Senate Democrats made a last-minute push on Wednesday to pass a package of targeted tax breaks, but Republicans scoffed at the idea that the work could be completed before lawmakers leave town to campaign.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday he would like to vote on the so-called tax extenders and a string of other items before the chamber heads home for election season in the coming days.

But the Nevada Democrat also asserted that Republicans would have to cooperate on the tax break passage, and gave little indication he expected that to happen.

“We have a few things that we're going to try to get done,” Reid told reporters at the Capitol. “And how long we're here, that's the next question somebody will ask. We're going to be here as long as the Republicans force us to be here.”

“We could finish this stuff tomorrow, but it's up to them,” Reid added.

For their part, top Senate Republicans said they doubted there was enough time for the chamber to deal with the $205 billion package, which includes a patch to stop the alternative minimum tax from hitting middle-class taxpayers and also extends incentives for renewable energy and research.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) also stood in the way of Reid's attempt to move the extenders package forward by unanimous consent on Wednesday evening. 

Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, had dubbed the panel’s passage of the extenders package in August as a sign that Republicans and Democrats could still work together.

The two also said the work on the tax breaks would serve as good practice as Congress gears up for a comprehensive overhaul of the entire tax code, possibly next year.

The Senate is currently trying to pass a stopgap spending bill to fund the government for six months after Oct. 1. 

And Kyl (R-Ariz.) also suggested to reporters on Wednesday afternoon that lawmakers would want to seek changes to the extenders package, which five Republicans — including Kyl — opposed when the Finance Committee passed it in August.

“You have to go through the whole process, and I suspect that’s one of those things that’s complicated enough that a lot of members have things that they’d like to do in terms of offering amendments and so on,” Kyl said. “So I think it’s very, very difficult for the leader to get it up.”

Even on the off chance the Senate does deal with tax extenders soon, the issue is almost certain to spill over into the post-election session of Congress.

The tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee has been conducting its own review of the expired and expiring tax breaks, and top Republicans on the panel have been saying for months they planned to deal with extenders in that lame-duck session.

Lawmakers will also have to deal with larger issues after the election, including sequestration and the expiring Bush-era tax rates, meaning extenders could easily be wrapped up in the broader fiscal debate.

Still, some Senate Democrats said they were hopeful more substantive work on extenders could be completed in the next few days, and that Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will continue to discuss the issue.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) added that the effort on tax extenders is separate from the continuing resolution debate.

“Harry is waiting to hear from Mitch McConnell as to whether there will be an effort outside the CR to do that,” he said. "Currently, Harry is trying to take a separate path."

But a Senate Republican staffer laughed at the idea that substantive negotiations were going on over extenders, and another GOP aide said a "list" of open items is being looked at because the Senate could be in session through Sunday.

The second aide, however, doubted that the tax extenders bill will make the cut, and even Baucus sounded less than optimistic on Wednesday.

"I'd like to, but there are not a lot of days left," he told The Hill. 

View article here.