Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley
On Tax Extenders
Delivered June 12, 2014
Mr. President, just last week Majority Leader Reid gave his view that tax extenders is dead in the Senate until the lame duck session. The Majority Leader blames this on the Minority, but it is the Majority Leader that is uniquely situated under Senate rules to determine what legislation will be considered on the Senate Floor.
The Majority Leader’s excuse for not proceeding to extenders before the lame duck is that Republicans are seeking to offer amendments unrelated to tax extenders. This excuse simply does not fly.
Even an introductory report on Senate procedure from the Congressional Research Service will tell you, there is no “standing rule or general requirement that the amendments offered by Senators on the floor must be germane or relevant to the bill being considered.”
As the CRS report states, “the right to offer non-germane amendments is extraordinarily important because it permits Senators to present issues to the Senate for debate and decision, without regard to the judgments of the Senate's committees or the scheduling decisions and preferences of its majority leader.”
The Majority Leader has sought to circumvent the open amendment process by blocking amendments by filling the amendment tree. This allows the majority leader to effectively decide what, if any, amendments will receive consideration on the Senate floor. Essentially this allows the majority leader to impose his own will at the expense of the will of the Senate as a whole.
The real reason the Majority Leader does not want to bring extenders back up is that he is concerned members of his party might have to take tough votes in an election year.
This is a poor excuse for putting off considering legislation that has broad bipartisan support. It puts politics before constituents.
Delaying tax extenders legislation to the lame duck has real consequences for our constituents. We know from previous years, late action on tax extenders poses significant tax administration burdens that cause headaches and hardships for millions of taxpayers.
When we fail to act in a timely fashion, tax forms are not ready and refunds are delayed. We owe it to our constituents to see to it that these added complications are not a factor this year. Tax season is unpleasant enough without us adding to it by failing to do our job in a timely fashion.
While many view tax extenders as benefitting businesses, the truth is the delay of widely used individual tax provisions will impact millions of taxpayers.
Three of the most widely used tax provisions are the state and local sales tax deduction, claimed on over 11 million returns in 2011, the above-the-line deduction for teacher expenses, claimed on over 3.8 million tax returns in 2011, and the college tuition deduction, which was claimed on about 2 million tax returns. These three provisions alone gives us over 16 million reasons to act now to ensure we don’t subject these taxpayers to needless delays and complications this filing season.
These 16 million tax filers should provide more than enough reason for not putting off tax extenders legislation until the lame duck. But, if you need of another reason, think of the small businesses that are anxiously looking on wondering what we are going to do about the expiration of the enhanced expensing rules under Section 179.
I’m sure I’m not the only one hearing from small business owners and farmers who are putting off purchasing that new truck or tractor all because they do not know the fate of this provision. This is bad for economic growth and bad for jobs.
Then there is the lapse of the renewable energy incentives that support millions of jobs, not only in Iowa but in states across the country. The expiration of these provisions has already hampered the strides made toward a viable self-sustainable renewable energy and fuel sector. Delaying extension of these important provisions is hurting the economy and costing jobs.
A biofuels organization found that nearly 80 percent of U.S. biodiesel producers have scaled back production this year. Sixty-six percent of biodiesel producers have reduced their workforce or anticipate cutting jobs. This is a direct result of policy uncertainties in Washington, including the expiration of the biodiesel tax incentive.
The only thing standing in the way of passing the extenders package here in the Senate is Majority Leader Reid and a handful of reasonable amendments.
The delay in passing the extenders package is harming a whole range of renewable energy efforts. A letter delivered to every senator from about 200 clean energy businesses urged quick passage of the bill.
The letter stated:
“The lack of timely action to extend these provisions injects instability and uncertainty into the economy and weakens confidence in the employment marketplace. Moreover, the extension of the expired provisions should not be delayed until the end of the year since companies are making decisions right now related to taxes that will have an immediate impact on the economy.”
I would encourage all those who support this bill to urge the Majority Leader to bring it back up and allow for a fair amendment process. Could the Senate Majority Leader possibly argue that it’s more important to protect senators from tough votes than move forward on clean energy and job creation?
For such an important piece of legislation, there is no legitimate reason for the Majority Leader to refuse to bring extenders to the floor for an open and honest debate.
It has been awhile since we have had a relatively open amendment process on major tax legislation. Because of this, many senators view this bill as their one shot at getting tax priorities they have considered on the floor. There is no reason an agreement cannot be reached that will provide that opportunity to members on both sides of the aisle.
As a former Chairman and Ranking Member of the Finance Committee, I know this can be difficult, but it is more than doable.
Senator Baucus and I regularly worked out an amendment process on tax bills. Usually this would consist of alternating votes on a block of 10 or so Democrat and Republicans amendments.
A tax bill that comes to my mind as an illustration of this process was the Jumpstart Our Business Strength Act. Like the tax extenders package, the JOBS Act had broad bipartisan support and ultimately passed the Senate 92 to 5. Though it had bipartisan support, there was no shortage of members from the other side seeking to offer their amendments. Many of these amendments were in no way related to tax, though the JOBS act was a tax bill.
As the bill’s chief sponsor and floor manager, I hoped to keep amendments somewhat relevant, at least related to tax. However, the then Democratic minority pushed for votes on everything from overtime laws to trade adjustment assistance to unemployment insurance.
All of these amendments were political in nature. They were intended to make Republicans take tough votes. At the time, then Minority Leader Reid vigorously defended the right of the minority to get votes on these and other amendments that were entirely non-relevant and non-germane. We Republicans took those votes because we wanted to get things done. That’s what the American People need now – new leaders who want to get things done.
Yet today, we are told Republicans are unreasonable for even seeking tax amendments to tax legislation. But, it’s not just members of the Minority who would like to offer amendments. Members on the other side filed nearly as many amendments as members of the Minority.
We could have been debating amendments to the extenders bill this week, but instead we wasted time on a student loan bill that was designed to fail so the other side could score cheap political points.
Mr. President, we were all sent here by our constituents to represent them in the legislative process. So, let’s legislate. A bipartisan bill such as tax extenders would be a perfect opportunity to show our constituents our ability to work together and get things done.
I call on the Majority Leader to bring the tax extenders bill back to the floor. Allow for a reasonable amendment process that permits individual senators of both parties to have a say in crafting this legislation.