Republicans Might Let Tax-Extenders Bill Move Forward

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) speaks on Capitol Hill October 12, 2011 in Washington, DC. Senate Republicans spoke to reporters briefly after attending their weekly Senate Republican Policy Committee closed luncheon meeting. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
National Journal
Michael Catalini
May 14, 2014, 3:29 p.m.

Usu­ally when Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id pre­vents Re­pub­lic­ans from of­fer­ing amend­ments, GOP sen­at­ors block the un­der­ly­ing bill. At least, that was how Re­pub­lic­ans handled the re­cently dis­patched en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill, which went down earli­er this week.

But there are signs that even if Re­id blocks amend­ments on le­gis­la­tion to ex­tend ex­pired tax pro­vi­sions, known as tax ex­tenders, Re­pub­lic­ans won’t pre­vent the bill from com­ing to the floor.

“There’s prob­ably a lot more sup­port among Re­pub­lic­ans for tax ex­tenders than there per­haps was for en­ergy ef­fi­ciency,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the cham­ber’s No. 3 Re­pub­lic­an.

The dif­fer­ence, ac­cord­ing to law­makers, is that some of the roughly 60 pro­vi­sions in the tax-ex­tenders pack­age be­ne­fit con­stitu­ents in some way. Thune also said that mem­bers view ex­tend­ing cur­rent tax policy dif­fer­ently than they do en­act­ing new en­ergy le­gis­la­tion.

“I just think you’re talk­ing about tax policy,” Thune said. “You’re talk­ing about ex­tend­ing tax policy. And many of them are things that our mem­bers are sup­port­ive of.”

Of course, there are some pro­vi­sions in the bill that Re­pub­lic­ans op­pose. “So it’s hard to say at this point how that vote might go,” Thune said. “But I wouldn’t ne­ces­sar­ily guar­an­tee that it’s gonna turn out the same way that the en­ergy [ef­fi­ciency] clo­ture vote did.”

GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Car­o­lina said that wheth­er he votes for the un­der­ly­ing meas­ure de­pends on wheth­er Re­id al­lows amend­ments, but that he ex­pects there is enough sup­port in the con­fer­ence for the meas­ure to clear pro­ced­ur­al hurdles.

“What they’ve said is there’s so much stuff in there that is ne­ces­sary to move our eco­nomy for­ward that per­haps this isn’t the time to make a philo­soph­ic­al or pro­cess stand,” Scott said.

At the same time, con­ser­vat­ive groups are mak­ing the case that this is pre­cisely the time to take a stand against ex­tend­ing the tax pro­vi­sions. Her­it­age Ac­tion, the Club for Growth, and Freedom­Works have each come out against the Ex­pire Act, as the le­gis­la­tion is known.

The prob­lem, some con­ser­vat­ives ar­gue, is that the tax ex­tenders be­ne­fit spe­cial in­terests, rather than the tax­pay­ing pub­lic over­all.

“That ap­proach to le­gis­lat­ing is how our tax code be­came so con­vo­luted in the first place,” Her­it­age Ac­tion spokes­man Dan Holler said in a state­ment. “Com­pre­hens­ive, pro-growth tax re­form will re­main elu­sive un­til it be­comes clear to spe­cial in­terests their favored pro­vi­sions are no longer sac­rosanct.”

But Re­pub­lic­ans who sound sup­port­ive of let­ting the le­gis­la­tion move for­ward aren’t fazed by the con­ser­vat­ive head­winds.

“Dif­fer­ent or­gan­iz­a­tions are go­ing to come to dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions,” Thune said. “You’re gonna have an aw­ful lot of sup­port from the busi­ness com­munity.”

In­deed, there are con­ser­vat­ive groups back­ing the le­gis­la­tion. Amer­ic­ans for Tax Re­form, the group headed by Grover Nor­quist, and the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce are among them. They want to see the ex­tenders fol­ded in­to a broad­er over­haul of the tax code, but ar­gue they help busi­nesses and fam­il­ies in the mean­time.

“For now, though, the man­date for the Sen­ate is clear: Do no harm,” Amer­ic­ans for Tax Re­form said in a state­ment.

Even if the meas­ure gets through the Sen­ate, it will stall in the House, which is con­sid­er­ing the pro­vi­sions dis­cretely, rather than in a single pack­age.

Ac­tion on the bill isn’t ex­pec­ted to wrap up un­til next week, aides said, and in the mean­time Re­pub­lic­ans have not ceased call­ing for amend­ments, with lead­ers say­ing they ex­pect a re­peal of the med­ic­al-device tax will be offered.

Thune has in­tro­duced eight amend­ments, in­clud­ing sev­er­al Obama­care meas­ures and one that would make the state and loc­al sales-tax de­duc­tion per­man­ent. In ad­di­tion, Re­pub­lic­an Sens. Jeff Flake of Ari­zona and Lamar Al­ex­an­der of Ten­ness­ee said they plan to jointly of­fer an amend­ment to re­peal the wind-en­ergy tax cred­it.

Even so, Re­pub­lic­ans are already ex­pect­ing Re­id to re­buff their ef­forts to amend the le­gis­la­tion.

Sen. Jeff Ses­sions of Alabama said he hasn’t de­cided wheth­er he’ll vote against pro­ced­ur­al meas­ures if Re­pub­lic­ans are not al­lowed amend­ments, but he poin­ted out that do­ing so has been the norm for him.

“This is so con­trary to the her­it­age of the Sen­ate, no mat­ter what the is­sue is be­fore us,” Ses­sions said. “We’ve got to end this.”

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