Tax extenders moving through Congress
In the first step of what could be a lengthy process, the House Ways and Means Committee voted 25-17 on June 20, 2019, to advance the tax extenders bill, which would temporarily extend a number of tax breaks that expired at the end of 2017 and 2018, or that will expire at the end of 2019.
“These extender provisions have been in the Tax Code for many years, and Congress has continued to extend them,” said Jorge Castro, former senior advisor to the IRS commissioner and currently a member of the tax practice at law firm Miller & Chevalier. “They haven’t been made permanent, but they are a group of different provisions that have diverse constituencies that care about them,” he said. “For example, it includes tax benefits for tuition expenses, and a mine rescue team training credit. This was in response to a coal mining tragedy in West Virginia in 2006, and covers training program costs for mine rescue team employees.”
“Other incentives in the extenders include provisions for the renewable energy sector, the New Markets Tax Credit for economic development, and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit,” he said. “The point it that it’s a large package that has a lot of constituencies that care about these tax provisions. Most of these provisions have been expired for a year and a half, so they will be retroactively extended back to Jan. 1, 2018. This package will not be made permanent, but the hope is that Congress at some point in the future will try to address them permanently.”
“Different provisions are important to different sectors, which is why the package currently has momentum,” he said. “It is generally bipartisan and bicameral, but the different chambers will disagree on how to enact it. Senate Finance Committee Chairman [Charles] Grassley and ranking member [Ron] Wyden have a clean extension -- just the extenders with nothing added. However, the bill that the House Ways and Means Committee marked up makes some changes, with which Republicans generally are not in favor.”
Specifically, the Ways and Means bill contains an offset to the extenders. It would “pay for” the extenders by accelerating the expiration of the higher estate tax exemption levels from 2025 to 2022. (Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the exemption increased from $5.5 million to $11 million for individuals, and from $11 million to $22 million for couples.)
“This is obviously just a first step in many important steps,” said Castro. “Senate Republicans have raised objections to the changes the House bill would make to the estate tax -- that’s just part of the negotiations,’ he said. “And [Ways & Means Chair Richard] Neal, on the House side, is under pressure to make this package fully paid for with revenue offsets so it will be a point of contention between the House and the Senate. Neal made the comment that they would look for more offsets by the time the bill hits the floor of the House.””
Although the markup is complete, the timeline is fluid, according to Castro. “The provisions have already expired, so there’s an urgency on that end to pass the legislation,”he said. “I can see this play out over the next several months, and possibly into the fall.”
And the possibility that the package may pass in late fall is one more complicating factor facing practitioners as they prepare for the filing season.