Gavel Down: Nov. 21 – 27
This week Congress was out for Thanksgiving. The President pardoned a turkey and signed six bills into law — including one he previously vetoed. A corporate merger strategically designed for tax benefit reignites the “inversions” talk in Congress and there are rumors of a deal coming on “Tax Extenders.”
Top Search on POPVOX this week:
President Pardons Turkey — Sets Off International Incident
“Time flies, but turkeys don’t,” remarked the President — even drawing a giggle from his youngest daughter.
The turkeys, “Honest” and “Abe” were selected in a nationwide poll by the National Turkey Foundation. Unfortunately, a turkey named “Abe,” — also the English spelling of the name of the Japanese Prime Minister — brought some (perhaps intentional) confusion in the Chinese media.
President Signed Sweeping Defense Authorization (that he previously vetoed)
On November 25th, President Obama signed S. 1356, the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016” (NDAA) into law, explaining that he vetoed a previous version due to a disagreement on military funding levels that was later changed in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement. Though “deeply disappointed” with restrictions in the NDAA on moving detainees from Guantanamo, the President said he was signing the bill:
because it includes vital benefits for military personnel and their families, authorities to facilitate ongoing operations around the globe, and important reforms to the military retirement system, as well as partial reforms to other military compensation programs. It also codifies key interrogation-related reforms from Executive Order 13491, which I strongly support.
Speaker Paul Ryan said: “By signing this legislation, President Obama is now required to come up with a real, comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS.”
(Read full summary of the bill from the House Armed Service Committee.)
Five Other Bills Became Law This Week
The President also signed:
- H.R. 208, the “Recovery Improvements for Small Entities After Disaster Act,” expanding access to Small Business Administration (SBA) loans to small businesses during major disasters;
- H.R. 639, the “Improving Regulatory Transparency for New Medical Therapies Act,” to amends the effective date of Food and Drug Administration approval of drugs;
- H.R. 2262, the “U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act,” which amends current law concerning the U.S. commercial human spaceflight industry; extends authority for use of the International Space Station through September 30, 2024; and provides authority to facilitate commercial exploration for and commercial recovery of space resources;
- S. 799, the “Protecting Our Infants Act,” which establishes activities at the Department of Health and Human Services to research and address prenatal and postpartum opioid-use disorder and neonatal abstinence syndrome;
- S. 2036, the “Equity in Government Compensation Act,” (capping CEO pay and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac)
Congress could vote on Major Tax Bill in Next Two Weeks
The tax media is reporting that Congress is working on a $700 million end-of-year tax package that could come up for a vote in the next two weeks:
House and Senate negotiators are working on a tax extenders package that would make the research credit permanent and delay the Affordable Care Act’s “Cadillac” tax on high-cost healthcare plans for two years …
According to tax lobbyists and House staffers, the tentative deal now under consideration is being developed by all congressional leaders and the White House. The extenders are likely to be attached to the omnibus budget legislation expected to pass Congress by December 11. – Tax Analysts
What are “Tax Extenders”?
“Tax Extenders” are carve-outs in the tax code that give special treatment to certain activities — and they are usually only authorized for one year and must be “extended.” That one-year, short-term policymaking means that there is a massive annual lobbying scramble for reauthorization from almost every corner of Washington. From the Research and Development (R&D) credit to encourage business innovation; the production tax credit (wind energy) and the solar tax credit that were enacted to encourage alternative energy; “bonus depreciation” for business capital expenditures, a $250 deduction for teachers who spend money out of pocket for classroom materials, low income and “new markets” tax credits to encourage development of affordable housing and in underserved areas, and many many many more. (Read the full list on POPVOX, also see: Meet the Tax Extenders from Politico)
Pfizer Deal Reignites Corporate “Tax Inversions” Debate
On Monday, American pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, announced that it would merge with the Irish company, Allergan. While Pfizer is much larger, the combined company will officially be Irish, for tax purposes, becoming the latest (and one of the largest) “corporate inversions,” and reigniting discussions about the U.S. “worldwide” tax system. “Corporate inversion” is the practice of companies moving headquarters overseas to avoid U.S. taxes. The pending Pfizer deal received several mentions on the Presidential campaign trail from both Republicans and Democrats.
On December 1, the two tax-writing committees in Congress (Senate Finance and House Ways and Means) will hold hearings to examine international tax policy. The U.S. Treasury Department recently released new rules aimed at making the practice more difficult, but significant reform would require Congressional action. Several bills are pending to limit corporate inversions, including S. 198 from Senator Dick Durbin [D-IL] and H.R. 415 from Rep. Sander Levin [D-MI-9].
Congressional Action on Refugees Hits Bumps
Members of Congress responded to the Paris attacks with a host of bills aimed at limiting entry into the United States and discussions about ways to roll back the President’s plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees next year.
- A House bill (H.R. 4038) that passed last week to require heightened screening of Syrian refugees may face a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.
- While some Members of Congress have suggested blocking funding for Syrian refugees in a funding bill, the process is not straightforward. Most refugee assistance is financed by immigration fees and not dependent on a Congressional appropriation, which is how Congress normally yields its “power of the purse.”
- Instead of limiting refugee entry, some Democrats are proposing to limit “visa waiver” access for people who have spent time in Syria.
- The visa waiver program allows people with certain passports to enter the US without a visa, which many business groups support. In fact, two bills (S. 2091, H.R. 1401) were introduced this Congress to expand the program.
- In the wake of the Paris attacks, some Members are pushing for bipartisan legislation to bar gun sales to suspected terrorists. The Senate bill (S. 551) is sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein [D-CA] and the House bill (H.R. 1076) is sponsored by Rep. Peter King [R-NY].
#ICYMI (In Case You Missed It)
- Some Senators are working on a bill to assist Puerto Rico, which is expected to default on its debt on December 1.
- Most Americans feel that “their side” loses more than it wins in politics, according to a new study from Pew.
- The Treasury Department sanctioned several banks and individuals for assisting the government of Syria and facilitating Syrian oil purchases from ISIL
Speaker Ryan is “steering” the Congress toward more changes – Molly E. Reynolds, Brookings
See how Americans rate their own senators (Hint: much better than they rate “Congress” as a whole) – Reid Wilson, Morning Consult
Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.