House approves tax cut package worth over $600 billion
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans overwhelmed divided Democrats to whisk tax breaks for businesses, families and special interests through the House on Thursday as Congress sped toward final votes on a year-crowning budget accord that will also bankroll the government in 2016.
The tax measure, approved 318-109, includes political coups for both parties. More than 50 expiring tax cuts will be extended with more than 20 becoming permanent, including credits for companies’ expenditures for research and equipment purchases and reductions for lower-earning families and households with children and college students.
“Finally with this tax bill, families and businesses are going to have the long-term certainty that they need instead of scrambling year after year to find out what’s next,” declared House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Ryan, who just six weeks ago succeeded the deposed former Speaker John Boehner, all but claimed the bill’s passage as a personal triumph, citing it as an example of his drive “to get our House back on track.” The Senate aimed to approve the tax bill Friday.
Both chambers also planned Friday votes on the second leg of the budget compromise, a $1.1 trillion measure financing government, after which Congress was ready to adjourn until January.
Overall, the budget pact was a modest one with many on each side describing it as the best deal they could get under divided government. It was arguably most noteworthy for what it didn’t include, such as GOP efforts to halt Planned Parenthood’s federal money and Democratic pushes for stiffened gun curbs.
While Republicans voted nearly in lockstep for the tax measure, it split Democrats, who opposed it by 106-77. While some Democrats said it was an opportunity to make family tax breaks permanent, others complained it was too skewed toward business. They also said its price tag – exceeding $600 billion over a decade – would swell federal deficits and make money scarcer for domestic programs the party treasures.
“It’s a Trojan horse and we should not be fooled,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
That attitude was not shared by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who was backing the measure. The White House said President Barack Obama would sign both the tax and spending bills, which combined totaled more than 2,200 pages.
Pelosi added some suspense to Friday’s spending bill debate, questioning whether there were enough Democratic votes for it to pass. She cited opposition to its lifting of the 40-year-old ban on exporting American crude oil and the bill’s lack of language letting Puerto Rico restructure its debt to avoid bankruptcy.
Large-scale Democratic opposition would be significant, since most Republicans were expected to oppose the measure because they consider its expenditures excessive. Late Thursday, Pelosi urged her colleagues to support the bill, arguing the Democratic wins it contains outweighed its “atrocious policy” of ending the oil export ban.
“I will not empower Big Oil to upend so many victories for hard-working American families,” she wrote to Democratic lawmakers.
GOP leaders worked to build Republican votes but exhibited little nervousness about the fate of the wide-ranging bill, which included, among other things, language restricting visa-free entry to the U.S. and prodding companies to give cyber threat information to the government.
Presidential politics provided a bit of background music in the Senate.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a presidential candidate, complained Thursday on Fox News Channel that the spending bill wouldn’t do enough to keep Syrian refugees from the U.S. and suggested he would use procedural delays and slow the measure to call attention to the issue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., scheduled the votes for Friday anyway.
“It’s not perfect, and we certainly didn’t get everything that we wanted,” McConnell said of the budget compromise. But he said it “advances conservative priorities” by cutting taxes and boosting defense spending.
Some tax cuts were sprinkled into the spending bill, too, as a way to attract GOP votes. Together, the two bills would pare taxes by $680 billion over 10 years.
Also crammed into the two bills were provisions trimming some of the levies that help finance Obama’s prized 2010 health care overhaul. The White House opposed the rollbacks, but Republicans and many Democrats savored them. A tax on medical devices would be suspended for two years, a levy on health insurers would stop for a year and, in a victory for unions, a tax on higher-cost insurance policies would be postponed two years until 2020.
In exchange for ending the oil export ban, Democrats won extensions of tax breaks for alternative power sources such as solar and wind energy.
Other extended tax cuts include breaks for some teachers, commuters, timber investors, electric vehicle owners and makers of hard cider drinks. People in the seven states without income taxes could deduct local sales taxes on their federal returns.
The tax bill also would make it easier for groups seeking tax exemptions to get information about their cases from the Internal Revenue Service. That was an echo of the 2013 controversy over the IRS’ admission that it subjected conservative groups seeking that status to unfairly tough investigations.