Tax Break Extensions

At the end of 2013, a number of tax breaks expired, and although they are typically renewed from year to year, it unclear that they will be re-upped before the November elections. The tax benefits include a wide variety of measures, like state and local sales tax deductions, business expenses, and plenty others. Some are controversial, like special rules benefiting NASCAR and similar stadiums. The Senate Finance Committee was supposedly working on a bill to restore certain tax breaks, but a number of details, like which benefits will be included and for how long, are still being debated. Although negotiations have not finished, the Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, expressed hope that both parties would support the legislation.

Even if the Senate completes its work, it faces opposition in the House. Approximately 50 Republicans have said that they would oppose any tax breaks that are not paid for elsewhere in the budget. The question of the price is important. As The Wall Street Journal reports, “The basic problem with the extenders is that many of the tax breaks are too popular — and too important — to kill, but also too expensive to be made permanent. So Congress keeps kicking the extenders can down the road for a year or two, as the price tag keeps going up. By now, the package has grown so large that even paying for a temporary extension has become too costly for many lawmakers to consider.”

National Journal: Bid to Resurrect Expired Tax Breaks Likely to Drag Out

Wall Street Journal: Congress Heads Toward Collision Over Temporary Tax Breaks

Unemployment Benefits

Extending unemployment benefits has been a controversial issue in Congress this year. Unemployment insurance expired at the end of last December, and Congress has been trying to find a way to revive it. A bill is being cooked up in the Senate now, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has paved the way for its consideration on the Floor. Although it is likely to pass the Senate, as it currently stands, it faces stiff opposition in the House. House Speaker John Boehner has repeatedly said he would not consider the legislation unless it was paid for and encouraged job creation; he reiterated his stand on Tuesday. A number of the House Republicans think the Senate’s offsets are not sufficient; others are skeptical of extending the unemployment benefits for so long. Democrats hope that by passing the Senate bill, the House will be encouraged to act.

Roll Call: Unemployment Benefits Headed for Friday Senate Vote

National Journal: House Republicans Not Feeling Any Pressure to Extend Unemployment Insurance

Democratic Obamacare Fixes

If Democrats find unemployment insurance extensions difficult to get past House Republicans, perhaps they will find it easier to work with them on changes to Medicare. A number of Senate Democrats would like to introduce legislation to reform the healthcare reform. They include Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Senator Mark Begich of Alaska. With the exception of Senator Heitkamp, these are all up for reelection in tight races. One of the ideas being considered by Senators Begich and Warner is a new kind of insurance plan that costs less, but requires people to front more money for the services they actually use. Another option is allowing people to buy insurance plans out of state. The Wall Street Journal reports that Democratic sources say the changes might not make it to the Senate Floor, so problems with Obamacare are not front and center in the public eye.

Wall Street Journal: Democrats to Offer Fixes for Health Law

And for our latest post: More Nuclear-Option Fallout: Senate Blocks Presidential Appointment