What You Need to Know
- The tax-writing panels in the House and Senate have until Sept. 15 to finish writing the details of the tax-raising package.
- Changes like an increase in capital gains rates and a move to tax assets at the time they are passed on to heirs, rather than when they are sold, have faced pushback.
- One more niggle for the committees is figuring out how to expand the state and local tax, or SALT, deduction.
Wealthy Americans wondering how much more taxes they’ll owe after Democrats pass their sweeping social-spending package may have to wait until deep into the fall, or later, to find out.
The tax-writing panels in the House and Senate have until Sept. 15 to finish writing the details of what would amount to the biggest tax-hike package since 1993. Those details are part of a legislative push that incorporates Democrats’ plans for ramping up spending on initiatives including health, child care and clean energy.
They’re almost certain to miss that deadline.
First off, lawmakers don’t yet know how big the final tab will be, a key determinant for how much money will need to be raised. The outline known as a budget resolution that passed last week called for $3.5 trillion over 10 years. But moderate Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin have said they want a smaller figure in the final so-called reconciliation bill.
Next, legislators have different ideas about which tax measures to enact. President Joe Biden laid out a core set of proposals, including a boost to the capital gains and top income-tax rates, corporate-tax hikes and a change in how a levy on inheritance works. He also laid down a red line against boosting levies on those earning under $400,000.
But Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden has ideas of his own. In the House, Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal and his staff and panel members are moving on a separate track.
“We’ve put forward this menu of options, and it would be hard for me to say at this point which have a higher chance of success than others,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who has worked closely with the White House on tax issues. “We’re going to have strong support for a robust tax package,” he predicted, noting that it will need the support of all 50 Senate Democratic caucus members.
Staff at the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees have been rushing to complete the text while lawmakers are largely absent from Washington during the August recess. Legislators serving on the panels don’t have much insight into what they’re drafting, according to two congressional aides.
Given the timeline set by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrats are weighing the option of bypassing the usual committee voting practice, where amendments are considered, and instead sending the various components of the overall tax-and-spending legislation — known as a reconciliation bill — straight to the House and Senate floors.
That would give lawmakers fewer opportunities to add their own priorities, the aides said.
The House is voting early next week on the budget resolution, setting the stage for the reconciliation process, which allows for Democrats to forgo Republican votes in the 50-50 Senate but requires that the caucus remain unified. GOP lawmakers have opposed both the tax and the spending elements of the legislation.
The biggest problem for congressional staff as they try to construct the tax portion of the bill is that they still don’t know how much revenue they will need to raise. Of the $3.5 trillion in spending allowed in the budget resolution, at least half would be funded by tax increases. Manchin and Sinema haven’t specified what top-line number they’d support.
“The big numbers aren’t settled yet. They’re still figuring out how much they can agree to spend,” said Frank Clemente, the executive director of progressive group Americans for Tax Fairness. “Committees are preparing various revenue options and the legislative text that would be needed to achieve the revenue goals that finally get decided on.”
Lawmakers would then consider those options after they return from break. The Senate is scheduled to return Sept. 13. After a brief session starting Monday, the House will be back in session starting Sept. 20.