House Lawmakers Examine Tax Extenders

The House Ways and Means Tax Policy Subcommittee held a March 14 hearing in which lawmakers and stakeholders examined the future of various temporary tax extenders post-tax reform. Over 30 tax breaks, which included energy and fuel credits, among others, were retroactively extended for the 2017 tax year in the Bipartisan Budget Act (P.L. 115-123) enacted in February.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have varying views on specific temporary tax provisions, but in general, seem to have largely been in agreement that year-end tax extenders are not good policy. New to the discussion, however, is whether such provisions are worthwhile now that business tax rates have been lowered along with full and immediate expensing under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) (P.L. 115-97).

New Path Forward
The Ways and Means Committee is “charting a new path forward on temporary tax provisions,” Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Tex., said in his opening statement. “Temporary measures are rarely good tax policy.”

According to Brady, numerous tax extenders only exist because of the previously outdated tax code and high tax rates. But now that tax reform has been enacted, these temporary tax breaks may serve less of a purpose. “Starting now, we’re going to apply a rigorous test to these temporary provisions,” Brady said.

To that end, Tax Policy Subcommittee Chairman Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., said that any temporary tax provision determined as no longer necessary post-tax reform should be eliminated. And, as for those that continue to serve an important role and enhance tax reform, permanence should be considered.

Tax Policy Subcommittee ranking member Lloyd Doggett, D-Tex., also weighing in on the issue, said that any temporary tax provisions that remain will need to be paid for moving forward. Additionally, Doggett criticized Republicans for not holding enough hearings on the TCJA, as well as the specific tax extenders currently under review. Doing so, he added, would enable needed discussion on relevancy.

Panels
Witnesses at the hearing were grouped into four panels, three of which consisted of several representatives from various industries including fuel, energy, and real estate. The other included witnesses from several think tanks and research organizations.

Generally, industry stakeholders argued that many of these temporary tax breaks remain important, even after tax reform. Buchanan, however, repeatedly asked witnesses why additional incentives were needed after tax cuts and full expensing were provided through tax reform under the TCJA. Several Republican lawmakers, including Buchanan, stated that temporary tax provisions only add to the uncertainty of the tax system.

Several industry witnesses argued, in essence, that not all tax extenders are created equal and, thus, should be evaluated individually. Barry Grooms, testifying on behalf of the National Association of Realtors, told lawmakers that the tax exclusion for forgiven mortgage debt is unique and should be made a permanent part of our tax law. “Since it was first added to the Internal Revenue Code in 2007, this provision has provided much-needed financial relief for millions of distressed households,” Grooms testified. This exclusion makes the tax system fairer, Grooms added, stating that it provides assistance to families experiencing hardships.

Policy
Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told lawmakers that tax extenders are generally poor policy and that most should be allowed to sunset. According to MacGuineas, not only do tax extenders add to the federal deficit, the temporary nature of tax extenders makes it difficult for businesses and individuals to plan and invest. “To be sure, there are sometimes legitimate reasons for temporary tax policy – to respond to a natural disaster or economic downturn, to test effectiveness, or to provide transition relief – but most of the tax extenders are temporary simply to hide their budgetary cost, ” MacGuineas testified.

Likewise, David Burton, senior fellow in economic policy at The Heritage Foundation, spoke to the costliness of tax extenders. Burton testified that 13 energy tax extenders are unwarranted. “At roughly $53 billion over ten years, the revenue lost from these provisions is substantial,” Burton included in his written testimony. Additionally, Burton told lawmakers that tax extenders make the tax system less fair.

Seth Hanlon, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, criticized Congress for not addressing tax extenders in the TCJA. Furthermore, Hanlon told lawmakers that tax extenders not only make the tax code more unstable and add to the federal deficit but also complicate the IRS’s job during filing season.

“Congress should have ended the gimmicky routine on tax extenders long ago, and certainly should have done so in legislation that was billed as a once-in-a-generation tax reform,” Hanlon testified. “But, better late than never.”