Legislative Sessionby Senator Ron Wyden
Posted on 2014-12-16
WYDEN. Mr. President, with this tax bill, the Congress is turning
in its tax homework 11\1/2\ months late and expects to earn full
credit. Tax incentives will last just 2 weeks before families and
businesses are thrown back into the dark with respect to the taxes they
owe. The legislation accomplishes nothing for 2015.
The debate takes place against the backdrop of positive economic news, showing that unemployment is down and wages are up--just the kind of news the Congress ought to build on by providing certainty and predictability for families and businesses. Instead, the Congress is about to pass a tax bill that doesn't have the shelf life of a carton of eggs.
Of course, we have the power to enshrine tax provisions for any length of time we choose. What the Congress can't do is travel back through time. The Congress can pass this $41 billion bill, but it cannot change anything taxpayers did 6, 8 or 10 months ago. Those decisions have been made.
The only new effects of this legislation apply to the next 2 weeks. That is not enough time for the key provisions; for example, putting a dent in veterans unemployment, to start a clean energy project, to hire new workers or to help a student who is on the fence about whether to enroll in college next semester. Particularly important is this bill drops the health coverage tax credit, yanking away an economic lifeline that working-class Americans were counting on this April 15. This means that for tens of thousands of our people in States such as Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, who have been kicked down by a fiercely competitive economy, they are going to face a very unpleasant surprise this spring.
I am just going to spend a minute talking about how the Senate got here and where our tax policy should go in the future. The truth is the Senate didn't need to be in this spot. Within a few weeks after I became chairman of the Finance Committee, with the help and good counsel of Senator Hatch and many members of the committee, we unanimously passed the EXPIRE Act, a balanced, bipartisan bill that would provide 2 years of certainty and a springboard to comprehensive reform. When the bill came to the floor, a host of Senators said they were eager to move it forward. Democrats and Republicans all wanted to move ahead, but the toxic Senate environment and a battle over amendments caused the EXPIRE Act to stall out.
This fall there were discussions with the House about a bipartisan, bicameral agreement. I was encouraged at the outset, especially when the House indicated they would accept the Senate's bipartisan work. We also talked about the possibility of making several provisions permanent. In my view, any agreement on permanent tax policy has to be balanced--balanced between support for business and support for working families. A deal that is skewed in just one direction fails the test of fairness. The Democrats on the Finance Committee felt the same way. The negotiations progressed, more offers were traded, and there was real hope. However, after weeks of hard work, there was a conflicting process and that drove House Republicans to quit the negotiations. Senate negotiators, in effect, were left without a dance partner. Our team kept making new offers. We tried to suggest proposals that had drawn support from Republicans and Democrats in the past, but the House settled on passing this 2-week extender bill that is now before us this evening.
However Senators choose to vote on this legislation, I want to recognize that this bill proves, once and for all, how broken America's tax system is. The Congress is about to spend $41 billion on a tax incentive package that when done right ought to lift the cloud of uncertainty and strengthen the important parts of our American economy. Instead, all of the $41 billion in this legislation is going to go for things that happened months and months ago. Virtually all of the $41 billion has absolutely no incentive power whatsoever. Reforming the Tax Code is going to be hard, but it can be done. I sat next to our former colleague Senator Gregg every week for 2 years to produce the first bipartisan Federal income tax reform bill. I am very grateful to our current colleague Senator Coats, who picked up on those efforts. Senator Hatch--and I commend him for it--put out an analysis for tax reform issues, recognizing that getting more perspectives in the debate is going to help advance reform.
I know Senator Hatch is going to keep working diligently when he takes the gavel--and I congratulate him for that--in January, and I look forward to working with him.
Before we wrap up for the year, I also want to congratulate Senator Casey and Senator Burr, who worked tirelessly in a bipartisan way on behalf of the disabled. I met with these disabled folks in our community, and I commend Senator Casey and Senator Burr for their work.
Here is the bottom line for the future: The middle class deserves a tax cut. The tax system in America needs to do more to promote innovation and launch a new wave of job creation. Our country desperately needs a simpler and more competitive corporate tax system that draws investment and jobs to our country. We have to end the cycle of stop-and-go policy that leaves taxpayers in the dark time and time again.
I want to yield our remaining time to my colleague Senator Cantwell, from Washington and close by saying, retroactive tax bills, such as the one before the Senate tonight, may satisfy some, but they leave our workers, our families, and businesses wanting. It is the time for real tax reform.
For the last word on our side, my colleague and seatmate, Senator Cantwell.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Washington.