Congress juggles immediate/long-term tax issues
Nearly half-way into the year, tax legislation has been hotly debated in Congress but lawmakers have failed to move many bills. Only one bill, legislation to make permanent the research tax credit, has been approved by the House; its fate in the Senate still remains uncertain. Other bills, including legislation to extend many of the now-expired extenders before the 2015 filing season, have stalled. Tax measures could also be attached to other bills, especially as the days wind down to Congress’ August recess.
Legislation to extend nearly all of the extenders seemed to be almost assured of passage in the Senate after the Senate Finance Committee (SFC) approved the EXPIRE Act in April. The EXPIRE Act would extend through 2015 many of the popular but temporary tax incentives, including the higher education tuition deduction, the state and local sales tax deduction, the deduction for mortgage premiums, research tax credit, Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), and more. In May, the EXPIRE Act became bogged down in procedural votes in the Senate. Democrats and Republicans could not agree whether amendments would be allowed and if so, how many amendments.
In the meantime, individual lawmakers have introduced bills to extend some of the extenders. The bills must be referred to committees (the SFC or the House Ways and Means Committee) for action. Committee chairs ultimately determine if the bills will be brought before the committee. SFC Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has signaled that the EXPIRE Act is likely his best attempt to move an extenders bill. Wyden has also said that he will not promote another extenders bill after 2015 (hence the name, EXPIRE Act). Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp, R-Mich., has largely kept the committee’s focus on the proposals outlined in his proposed Tax Reform Act of 2014.
Lawmakers have roughly eight weeks before their month-long August recess to act on the extenders. Our office will keep you posted of developments.
Research tax credit
The research tax credit is a very popular business tax incentive. Its popularity has pushed it to the front of the line in the House for renewal. One drawback is the credit’s cost: estimated at $155 billion over 10 years.
In May, the House approved the American Research and Competitiveness Act of 2014. The bill attracted support from both Democrats and Republicans. The bill makes permanent and enhances the research tax credit. The bill is not offset, which is a stumbling block to winning support from Senate Democrats. In fact, President Obama has said he would veto the bill in its present form if it reaches his desk. There is a possibility, albeit slight, that the Senate could pass its own version of the research tax credit and the House and Senate would try to reach a compromise in conference.
President Obama, lawmakers from both parties and many taxpayers agree that the U.S. corporate tax rate should be reduced. They disagree on how to pay, or if to offset, any reduction. President Obama continues to promote the elimination of some business tax preferences, particularly tax incentives for oil, gas and fossil fuel producers, as the way to pay for a corporate tax rate cut. The President also has called for using some of the revenues to fund road and bridge construction.
Democrats in the House and Senate have also honed in on so-called “corporate inversions.” These occur when U.S. companies merge with foreign ones for tax purposes. The merged entity is often located in a low-tax jurisdiction, such as Ireland with a corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent, compared to the U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent. House and Senate Democrats have introduced companion bills (Stop Corporate Inversions Act of 2014) to curb these mergers. Under current law, a corporate inversion will not be respected for U.S. tax purposes if 80 percent or more of the new combined corporation (incorporated offshore) is owned by historic shareholders of the U.S. corporation. The bill would reduce the threshold to 50 percent. House and Senate Republicans are not expected to support the bill.
On July 1, the interest rate on federal subsidized Stafford loans is set to increase from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. Legislation introduced in the Senate, the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act, would provide a one-year “fix” by setting the rate at the primary interest rate offered through the Federal Reserve discount window. The bill would be paid for by the so-called “Buffett Rule,” which generally would disallow certain tax preferences to higher income individuals. Along with the student loan bill, lawmakers have on their agenda legislation to renew federal highway spending, as discussed above. A final highway bill with tax-related provisions could be approved before the August recess. Some lawmakers have proposed a hike in the federal gasoline tax but it is unlikely to be approved.
If you have any questions about tax legislation, please contact our office.