Congress faces a crowded year-end legislative schedule
Spending bills, highway fund, debt ceiling & tax extenders on tap
Sunday, September 13, 2015
I was feeling a bit overwhelmed recently, looking at what was on my to-do list and the time left to do it. Then I saw Congress' schedule and thought, I'm in good shape.
The House and Senate are facing a series of deadlines that have much more serious consequences than me getting a story or blog post in at the last minute (please don't tell my editors I said that!).
There are four major dates on the remaining 2015 Congressional calendar:
October 1 -- The end of 2015 appropriations and the return of sequestration.
October 29 -- Expiration of the measure that temporarily refueled the Highway Trust Fund.
Mid-Fall -- The extraordinary measures implemented by U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in March to keep the country from defaulting on its loans will expire, forcing another battle over raising the debt ceiling.
December 31 -- Renewal of tax extenders that expired on Jan. 1, retroactively for the 2015 tax year and (maybe) for 2016.
Keeping the federal government running is the immediate concern. So far, the House has passed just six of the 12 fiscal year 2016 appropriations bills. The Senate's federal government financing score? Zero.
The consensus is that Congress will do what it usually does when it faces a critical deadline: postpone it. But they need to get to work on a stopgap funding bill. Now.
Another government shutdown? While both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner have vowed there will not be another government shutdown, they face challenges from some of their colleagues.
More conservative Republicans have vowed to use spending measures to strip funds from Planned Parenthood or else.
That tactic was used in 2013 when GOP lawmakers refused to vote for a bill that didn't include their anti-Affordable Care Act proposals. The federal government was closed for 16 days.
Although the Republicans, and particularly the Tea Party wing that pushed for the shutdown, seemed to bear the brunt of public blame two years ago, don't be surprised to see a similar effort this year.
IRS OK with funding delay: While getting full fiscal year funding in place on time is optimal, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen says he's fine with temporary financing.
A short-term continuing resolution would require federal agencies to maintain the status quo. Koskinen says all things considered, that's not so bad for the IRS.
The House has proposed cutting the IRS fiscal year 2016 budget by $838 million. The Senate's funding measure is less severe, but still would cut the tax collector's budget by $470 million.
"Either of those numbers would be as close to a catastrophe after five years of budget cuts for this agency as you can imagine," Koskinen said in a speech last week at a Washington, D.C., training conference for federal employees and contractors.
"Rolling it all into a continuing resolution and then an omnibus at the end of the year gives us more opportunity to get out from under what otherwise looks like draconian budget cuts," Koskinen said.
Koskinen said that if given more time to talk to lawmakers, there's hope that the IRS can convince them to change their minds on budget cuts.
IRS ROI at risk: One of the perennial arguments that Koskinen has made for full IRS funding is the good return the agency provides on that investment.
For every dollar the IRS receives, it brings in $6 to the U.S. Treasury, according to Congressional testimony by Koskinen, his boss Lew and the National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson.
Other collection concerns: IRS collection issues were the theme last week at my other tax blog.
Most of us face income taxes, even federal workers. And like everyone else, some federal employees also have trouble sometimes paying their taxes.
A recent Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration audit found that more than 300,000 federal workers and retirees owe Uncle Sam $3.5 billion in delinquent taxes.
Huge tax checks no longer welcome: While the IRS is working to reconcile those overdue accounts, it's also facing a change in payment methods when really large sums are involved.
Beginning in 2016, the IRS will no longer accept tax payment checks of $100 million or more. That's not a typo. Some people (or companies) actually write tax checks for amounts that require nine digits.
Next year, these payers of huge tax bills will have to split such payments into two (or more) checks.
I usually post my other tax thoughts over at Bankrate on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you miss them there, look for a quick review and links here the next weekend.
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