Shopping For Tax Extenders

Now that Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday are behind us, it’s time to see what gifts are available on Capitol Hill. Folks are headed to the Finance and Ways and Means committees with their wish lists of holiday-season extenders. Like children asking if Santa is coming, taxpayers want to know whether expiring tax provisions will be extended by the end of the year.

Five factors suggest that the answer is almost certainly no.

First, time is short. Congress is returning after a late Thanksgiving with only two or three weeks to move a bill. Putting a tax bill on the House or Senate floor before the budget conference committee’s December 13 deadline would be difficult.

Second, a tax extenders bill would create a virtually irresistible opportunity for year-end grandstanding in the Senate – including for amendments to repeal the mandates and taxes under Obamacare. Cutting off Senate debate on a small extenders bill could be difficult.

Third, Congress feels no urgency about extenders. Of the 55 tax provisions that will expire at the end of the year, all but a few have expired before. Taxpayers will have to be satisfied with retroactive reinstatement again. There is no reason to think they can’t.

Fourth, with the permanent alternative minimum tax patch and last year’s resolution of the Bush tax cuts, there is no crisis to force action and suppress dissent. Lingering disagreements over energy tax incentives, for example, are more likely to come to the surface and complicate extenders legislation.

Fifth, although the cost of extending the current set of expiring provisions likely is modest, a tax extenders bill would create a forum for yet another fight over the appropriate baseline for measuring whether tax cuts must be paid for with offsetting increases or spending reductions.

Santa is on his way as usual. It just may take him another year to show up with a package of tax extenders.

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