December 16,2014

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Wyden Floor Statement on Tax Extenders Vote

As Prepared for Delivery

With this stop-and-go tax extender bill, Congress is turning in its tax homework eleven months late and expecting to earn full credit. This package of incentives – which applies only to 2014 – will last two more weeks before families and businesses will be thrown back into the dark about what taxes they owe. This tax bill doesn’t have the shelf life of a carton of eggs.

Yet this legislation wants to do the impossible: to incentivize behavior retroactively. Congress has the power to enshrine tax provisions in law for any length of time it chooses. What Congress cannot do is travel back through time. Congress can pass this 41 billion dollar bill, but it cannot change anything taxpayers did six, eight or ten months ago. Those decisions have already been made, and those actions have already been taken. The only new effects of this legislation apply to the next two weeks.

That’s not nearly enough time for the important provisions in this package to catalyze growth among businesses or to support families in a meaningful way. It’s not enough time to put a dent in veterans’ unemployment, to start a clean energy project and hire new workers, or to help a student who’s on the fence about whether to enroll in college next semester.

Furthermore, this two-week bill drops the Health Coverage Tax Credit, yanking away an economic lifeline that working Americans were counting on this April 15th. Tens of thousands of people in states like Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania, who have been kicked down by a fiercely competitive economy, will face a deeply unpleasant surprise.

Just briefly, I’d like to respond to the question I’m asked frequently -- how did the Senate get here, and where should tax policy head in the future? The truth is, the Senate did not need to be in this position. Within a few weeks of when I became Finance Committee chairman – and with the help and good counsel of Senator Hatch and the other members – the committee unanimously passed the EXPIRE Act; balanced, bipartisan legislation that would provide two years of certainty and build a springboard to comprehensive tax reform.

When the bill came to the Senate floor, a host of Senators – Democrats and Republicans – said they were eager to move it forward. But unfortunately, despite strong bipartisan support, the toxic Senate environment and a battle over amendments caused the EXPIRE Act to stall. 

This fall, there were discussions with the House about a bipartisan, bicameral agreement over tax extenders. I was initially encouraged – even more so when the House came around and accepted the Finance Committee’s bipartisan EXPIRE Act. Our talks also included the possibility of making several tax policies permanent.

In my view, any agreement on permanent tax policies must be balanced between support for businesses and support for working families. A deal that only makes corporate policies permanent – or one sharply skewed in that direction – would have failed the test of fairness. My fellow Democrats on the Finance Committee felt the same way. So the negotiations progressed, more offers were traded, and there was real hope for an agreement.

However, after weeks of hard work, a conflicting process drove House Republicans to quit our negotiations. We were left without a dance partner. My team and I made new offers and tried to scale things back, but House Republicans settled on passing the two-week tax extender bill before the Senate tonight.

However senators choose to vote on this legislation, I believe it’s important to recognize that this extender debate proves once again that the tax code is utterly broken. This debate takes place against the backdrop of positive economic news showing unemployment is down and wages are up – the kind of news Congress should build on by providing certainty and predictability for families and businesses. But that’s not what the bill before the Senate today does.

Reforming the tax code – improving it – will be hard. But without question, bipartisanship on tax policy is possible. I sat side by side with former Senator Judd Gregg for two years to produce the Senate’s first bipartisan tax reform bill in a quarter century.

Senator Hatch recently put out an analysis of a variety of tax reform issues, recognizing that getting more perspectives into the debate will bring more Senators into the push for reform. I know Senator Hatch will keep working diligently toward reform when he takes the committee gavel in January, and I look forward to working with him.

I want tax reform to provide a middle class tax cut. I want it to drive innovation and launch a new wave of job creation. I want it to put in place a simpler, more competitive corporate tax system that draws investment and jobs to the United States. And I want it to end the cycle of stop-and-go policy that leaves taxpayers in the dark time and time again.

Here’s my bottom line. Retroactive tax bills like the one before the Senate tonight may satisfy Congress, but they leave workers, families and businesses wanting. It’s time for Congress to do the hard work of tax reform.