Congress returns to Washington this month with a lot on its plate. Coming up quickly are a number of important bills to be considered under the threat of deadline — negotiations on lifting the debt ceiling, the FY2018 budget resolution and appropriations bills, Federal Aviation Authorization reauthorization, disaster assistance for Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and comprehensive tax reform.
Looming in the background is the omnipresent threat of extending corporate welfare. Politically-connected special interests have consistently looked to these must-pass bills crossing the floors of Congress as vehicles for their handouts to catch a ride. One prime case in point is ongoing efforts over the past two years to renew a package of tax giveaways for green energy.
The handouts under ongoing debate — around $1.4 billion on expired tax provisions related to small-cell wind power, geothermal heat pumps, and the like — were wisely and intentionally allowed to expire back in 2015. The $680 billion tax extender package signed into law that year made many broad-based tax provisions permanent while allowing more than two dozen others benefiting special interests to expire. This laid the important groundwork for comprehensive tax reform — the kind that the Trump administration and leaders in Congress are currently diligently working on.
In a very real sense, Congress' future action (or inaction, hopefully) on these tax provisions is a test of it willingness to engage on comprehensive tax reform: If lawmakers can't stand up against special interests in the green energy industry over these tax provisions, then how will it be able to close the loopholes that benefit others? The federal tax code is clogged with targeted handouts for narrow special interests, and these expired green energy tax giveaways are simply a few.
American taxpayers have reasons to be optimistic they will.
One reason is that efforts to extend these giveaways have repeatedly failed over the past two years in Congress — first on last year's legislation reauthorizing the FAA, and then again on a tax extenders package at the end of 2016 that thankfully never came to be. Proponents of extending the expired tax credits consistently argued they should have been given the same five-year extensions as the main handouts the renewable energy industry received back in 2015, the wind production tax credit and the solar investment tax credit.
Another reason is the current fierce consensus among Republicans in Washington on the need to accomplish tax reform. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, released a joint statement in August that was a strong signal of commitment. The decision to drop the politically-divisive and economically-damaging Border Adjustment Tax from future tax reform plans is another.
If the White House and Congress are serious about fixing our broken tax code, they should let these expired tax provisions remain expired. Taxpayers shouldn't have to prop up politically-connected special interests through handouts, carve-outs, and loopholes buried in the tax code — but that's exactly what would happen if lawmakers extended them.
Policymakers should hold firm and continue on the critical work of reforming the tax code in a way that brings relief to ordinary families and businesses, not just those in the politically-connected wind and solar industries.
Christine Harbin (@ChrissyHarbin) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is vice president of external affairs for Americans for Prosperity.
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