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House works on tax extenders ... sort of

When the notice showed up in my email box, my first thought was, "Will miracles never cease?"

It was about a Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on tax extenders. What was going on? Congress actually thinking about, even taking testimony on, expired tax provisions and it's nowhere near December!

There are tax gods!

The tax extenders, in case you've forgotten, are the more than 70 temporary tax incentives that are perpetually renewed, usually en masse and at the end of the year or shortly into the next one, when they are made retroactive to prevent a break in the application of the law.

Yeah, not a very efficient way to operate. So you understand my excitement that action might be on the immediate horizon for the already expired tax extenders.

Among the popular personal tax breaks that are in legislative limbo are the state and local sales tax deduction, the higher education tuition deduction, educators' out-of-pocket expenses deduction and the itemized deduction for private mortgage insurance premiums. 

Business tax breaks that have companies waiting anxiously are the research and development (R&D) tax credit, special expensing rules, breaks for wind energy and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.

Not so fast: Alas, my extenders excitement was premature.

Yes, the W&M Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures did meet Thursday, April 26.

Ways and means banner seal

But despite the announcement email from full Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and the Subcommittee Chairman Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) that the tax writers would "conduct a thorough review of the various targeted provisions in the [Tax] Code commonly referred to as tax extenders," things were quite as ambitious as I had hoped.

It turns out the panel limited its review to hearing from House colleagues "who, as of April 25, 2012, have either introduced or co-sponsored legislation related to tax extenders during the 112th Congress."

That's a bit of a letdown.

So instead of looking at a broad range of the 70-plus tax provisions that officially ended on Dec. 31, 2011, the Select Revenue subcommittee members would hear about a handful of pet tax proposals.

Business breaks dominate: Subcommittee chair Tiberi started things off with his opening statement extolling the virtues of making permanent the subpart F exception for active financing income. Tiberi is a cosponsor of H.R. 749, which would do just that.

"In my view, it is among the most important recently expired provisions that must be extended," said Tiberi. "Further extension of that provision, which simply extends to financial services businesses the same tax treatment as other active trades or businesses conducted outside the U.S., is essential to the competitiveness of U.S. companies seeking to do business internationally." 

Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass), ranking member of the subcommittee and a cosponsor of H.R. 749, also spoke in support of the subpart F rules, as well as the New Markets Tax Credit, Build America Bonds and the R&D tax credit.

Other lawmakers spent time making the case for other tax provisions, primarily business related, that they have introduced.

Legislative or election effort: Cynics among us might think that this was simply an election year effort to let PAC money distributing constituents know that while no action is imminent, the lawmakers haven't forgotten them.

The implicit message, again if you have a bit jaundiced view of Capitol Hill, is that after the election, which the hoped-for campaign donations will help secure, the Representatives will do their darndest to ensure that the sweetheart specific tax laws are back officially on the books.

That could be a bit more difficult this year than in previous legislative sessions thanks to the current political climate and focus on the federal deficit.

But you can't fault the guys who made their cases for extenders for trying. Hey, a politician's gotta do what a politician's gotta do.

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