Top House Republicans have vowed repeatedly to make sweeping tax reform a reality this year — but that effort won’t be the only chance to see tax action.
Lawmakers will attach tax titles to other legislation before tax reform happens, whether as negotiating tools, technical fixes, or renewals of expiring provisions, according to lobbyists and lawmakers. While House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, has focused on producing one comprehensive tax bill, some individual bills could be introduced before a deal is reached — especially if tax overhaul efforts begin to languish.
Rep. James B. Renacci, R-Ohio, a member of Ways and Means, said while he also prefers a single tax package, Republicans may need to look at what else can get done first. “I do think it will come up. There’s continuation of other tax bills that people want to at least get on the table while we’re waiting, so I think those will come up,” he said.
Here are four tax provisions that could surface before a tax reform bill.
1. Nuclear Production Tax Credit
The House on June 20 passed a bill (H.R. 1551) to extend an unused production tax credit for new nuclear reactors past the sunset date of 2021. The bill is one of the few tax measures to pass the House this year, and could be attached to legislation such as a debt ceiling bill in order to get Senate passage as well.
Sponsor Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., said that he hopes the bill will move on its own in the Senate, rather than being bundled with other energy credits. Moving it quickly would provide certainty to Southern Co. and Scana Corp., which are building reactors in South Carolina and Georgia that are behind schedule and may not meet the Dec. 31, 2020, operational deadline to qualify for the credit.
“I think there’s a lot of bipartisan support and there’s a lot of urgency, much more so than the others,” Rice said.
2. Renewable Energy Tax Credits
Some lawmakers, particularly Democrats, have pushed to include the Tax Code Section 48 credits for renewable energy in any legislation with a tax title. So far, they have been unsuccessful.
Proponents are pushing to extend tax credits for solar energy, fuel cells, microturbines and small-scale wind energy through 2021.
“I think this is especially true given that what just moved was an energy credit,” a former GOP aide said, referring to the nuclear credit. “I would watch and see if other proposals are not pushed more aggressively in the energy space.”
Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., has pushed to bundle the renewable energy credits with the nuclear production tax credit. One legislative vehicle for the renewable energy credits and the nuclear credit could be the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, which is set to expire at the end of September and includes a tax component.
3. Partnership Audit Modifications
The pressure is mounting on lawmakers to pass legislation to delay or modify the new regime for partnership audits, which is to start next year.
The new audit process, intended to make it easier for the IRS to examine partnerships, was included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 as a last-minute revenue raiser. Since then, tax professionals have asked Congress to make changes to ambiguities in the law. Earlier this month, the American Institute of CPAs urged the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department to work with Congress to delay the start date of the rules by a year.
A technical corrections bill that would address industry concerns, which was introduced last session by top tax-writers, has yet to be reintroduced this year. Tax professionals had hoped the bill could be attached to a tax reform package, but as the timeline for a tax bill has slipped, practitioners are worried the IRS will have to scramble to incorporate technical changes in the guidance.
4. Expiring Extenders
When it comes to expiring tax provisions, the 2015 Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act didn’t “fix everything,” a tax lobbyist said. “Just most things.”
The deduction for mortgage insurance premiums, a provision with broad bipartisan support, was extended in the PATH Act but expired at the end of 2016. Other extended but also expired items include the above-the-line deduction for college tuition, the exclusion for forgiven debt on principal homes, the credit for non-business energy-efficient property, and the Section 179D deduction for energy-efficient commercial buildings.
“If tax reform doesn’t eventually move, these extenders will have to get done — and presumably by the time that people start to file their 2017 tax returns,” the lobbyist said.
Brady has been reluctant to touch any extender provision, saying that they will be handled in tax reform. But if tax reform doesn’t happen before taxpayers start filing tax returns next February, lawmakers will face significant pressure to move these items.