Tax Brawl Brewing on Capitol Hill

May 31, 2012 3:52pm
ap capitol nt 110928 wblog Tax Brawl Brewing on Capitol Hill

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The reality of “Taxmageddon” – a heavy load of tax code provisions expiring at the end of the year – is that lawmakers probably won’t come together on a comprehensive agreement until after the election this fall.

But that has not stopped congressional leaders from posturing on their party’s policies, hoping to drum up support for their respective platforms before November.

Republicans and Democrats alike often publicize the need to create certainty for the country’s small businessmen and women by removing uncertainty from the fiscal horizon.

But if anything on Capitol Hill is certain these days, it’s that the divided Congress is unlikely to bridge its differences before the election this November, and depending on the strength of a mandate that voters award to Congress on Election Day, the issue is likely to drag on well into next year.

Looking to get ahead of the game, House Speaker John Boehner said today that the House will act to “extend all of the current tax rates” next month “bringing some certainty to the tax code.”

Across the aisle, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote Boehner last week asking him to bring a middle-income tax cut bill to the floor immediately, leaving the battle over the upper-income tax cuts for another day. The Democratic leader said today she believes it is “important for us to get the show on the road, to act now so that we can remove all doubt that there will be a middle-income tax cut.”

“No longer will middle-income taxpayers be held hostage to those making over a million dollars a year and that money raised by the expiration of the high-income tax cuts would be used to reduce the deficit,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “This is urgent because, as we go toward the months ahead, we have another conversation brewing about the debt ceiling and it’s important for us to show that revenue will be on the table as we reduce the deficit. We have to deal with our economic issues, and we have to do it now.”

Whatever the House Republican majority passes next month, President Obama and congressional Democrats are unlikely to wholly embrace the GOP’s approach to extend all the current tax rates. Democrats have their own preferences, especially allowing the tax rates to expire for the wealthiest earners making more than $1 million per year and using that new revenue to pay down the deficit.

Asked about the prospect of a short-term extension of the current tax rates in order to get lawmakers past the lame duck and into the next session of Congress, Pelosi said that the idea of a three or six month extension is “fairly stupid” and another example of Congress “kicking that old can down the road.”

We’re not talking about instilling confidence [with a short-term extension],” she said. “We’re not talking about growing the economy, strengthening the middle class.”

At a news conference at the Capitol this morning, Boehner was asked whether he would support a Democratic proposal to remove uncertainty from the middle class by extending rates now for taxpayers earning less than $1 million per year.

Republicans have essentially dismissed the proposal as a Democratic attempt to strip a major GOP bargaining chip that could be used in negotiations to prevent tax cuts for the wealthy from expiring.

I believe that raising taxes at this point in our recovery is a big mistake,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “At a time when we’re trying to…help small businesses create jobs, this [Democratic] proposal would kill jobs.”

Republicans have long-maintained that a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans would discourage the same people they expect to create jobs from investing in businesses, but Pelosi does not buy into that approach.

“Their jobs bill? You know what it is? Déjà vu all over again. [Republicans believe] tax cuts for the wealthy will trickle down, and it will create jobs, and if it doesn’t, so be it – that’s the free market,” Pelosi said. “That’s exactly déjà vu all over again, which we had under George W. Bush. Tax cuts for the wealthy.”

Still, Boehner and the rest of the GOP aren’t backing down from what they see as a critical component to addressing the top issue facing voters this fall: jobs.

“The No. 1 concern amongst the American people continues to be about the economy and the lack of jobs that comes along with a slowly recovering economy,” he said. “That’s why Republicans continue to focus our efforts here in the House on those things that’ll help our economy.”

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