“Lame-duck” Congress returns with busy post-election tax agenda

Lawmakers are scheduled to return to work after the November elections for the so-called “lame-duck” Congress. Despite what is expected to be a short session, there is likely to be movement on important tax bills.

Tax extenders

Every two years, like clockwork, the same scenario seems to play-out in Congress. Many popular but temporary tax incentives expire and lawmakers debate whether to extend them, make them permanent or abolish them. This year is no exception. The new filing season is fast approaching and many tax breaks are, at this time, unavailable because they expired after 2013.

The expired tax breaks are known as “tax extenders.” Included within this catch-call category are a variety of tax incentives for individuals and businesses. Some are widely-claimed and are often inadvertently believed by taxpayers to be permanent…they are not. Individuals who claimed the state and local sales tax deduction, higher education tuition deduction, residential energy property credit, and others, in past years cannot claim them on their 2014 returns, unless the incentives are extended. The same is true for many business tax breaks, such as bonus depreciation, enhanced Code Sec. 179 small business expensing and the research tax credit. All of these incentives expired after 2013.

Congressional logjam

The last extension of the extenders was in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. At that time, many lawmakers wanted to discontinue the practice of renewing the extenders every two years and make some permanent while eliminating others. However, the House and Senate have taken different approaches. The Senate Finance Committee approved the EXPIRE Act (S. 2260) earlier this year. The bill extends the expired tax breaks two years. The House, on the other hand, has voted to make permanent only some of the extenders, such as bonus depreciation and Code Sec. 179 expensing.

It is unclear how lawmakers will proceed before year-end. The EXPIRE Act, while approved by committee, has yet to get a vote on the Senate floor. House GOP leaders, who endorsed the piece-meal approach to making permanent some of the extenders, have not said if they will support another comprehensive temporary extension like the EXPIRE Act. It is possible that lawmakers will punt the extenders to the new Congress that meets in January. In that case, a delayed start to the filing season is almost guaranteed. Our office will keep you posted of developments.

More tax bills

Some stand-alone tax-related bills could be passed before year-end. The ABLE Act (S. 313) enjoys bipartisan support. The ABLE Act would create new tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. Funds in the accounts could be used for qualified medical, transportation, housing, and education expenses. The Don’t Forget Our Fallen Public Safety Heroes Act (S. 2912) passed the Senate in September and could be approved by the House before year-end. The bill would exclude from income certain benefits paid to the family of a public safety officer who dies in the line of duty.

IRS funding

The federal government, including the IRS, is currently operating under a stop-gap spending bill. The temporary spending bill is scheduled to expire in December. The lame-duck Congress is expected to approve an omnibus spending bill to keep the government open. Earlier this year, appropriators in the House and Senate reached very different conclusions on funding for the IRS in 2015. House appropriators voted to cut funding; Senate appropriators voted to increase funding. The IRS has been operating under tight budgetary restraints for several years and that pattern is expected to continue into 2015.

Tax technical corrections

Congress may also take up a package of tax technical corrections. These bills are not new tax laws but are corrections to language in existing laws. For example, lawmakers may have intended that a certain language be included in a final bill and that language was left out. Frequently, these corrections are clerical. These corrections are intended to facilitate the administration of law.

If you have any questions about the extenders or year-end tax legislation, please contact our office.

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