On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 216-193 to pass H.R. 3996, a bill to extend relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax and other tax breaks for one year and offset the costs by reducing tax loopholes for private equity fund managers and others. All but eight Democrats present voted for the bill, while all the Republicans present voted against it.
The AMT provision is known as a "patch" because it prevents the AMT from reaching millions of more taxpayers (as the AMT is scheduled to do under current law) for a year but does not permanently address this problem. A larger bill (H.R. 3970) was introduced by Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) on October 25 to repeal the AMT entirely and offset the costs, mostly with a surtax that would reduce the Bush tax cuts for those families with incomes above half a million dollars a year. This bill is a major tax reform that would make the tax code simpler and more progressive without making the fiscal situation worse than it already is.
But because Republicans seem sure to block any provision that would reduce tax breaks even for the richest Americans, Rangel introduced the smaller bill (H.R. 3996) to patch the AMT for just one year, giving Congress more time to consider his more comprehensive tax reform. H.R 3996 borrows many of the good ideas from the larger bill, like closing the loophole for "carried interest" and a loophole that allows private equity fund managers to set up deferred compensation arrangements in offshore tax havens to avoid taxes. H.R. 3996 would also extend some business tax breaks (such as the research credit) for one year. Smaller provisions in the bill would make the Child Tax Credit more accessible for poor families and would create an additional standard deduction for property taxes for those who do not itemize their tax deductions.
Surprising Amount of Focus on "Carried Interest"
The Republicans chose the counter-intuitive strategy of rallying around one of the most offensive and blatantly unfair loopholes in the tax code, the loophole for "carried interest," which is a form of compensation paid to certain types of fund managers. This loophole essentially allows these fund managers to earn hundreds of millions of dollars and yet pay taxes at a lower rate than their middle-income receptionists.
Citizens for Tax Justice sent members of Congress a new fact sheet explaining that the loophole is a subsidy paid to millionaires, through the tax code, and funded by the rest of us who are paying income taxes at ordinary rates. The loophole is enjoyed by those who manage other people's money but are allowed to pretend that they're investing their own money -- which entitles them to the low, 15 percent rate for capital gains. Contrary to the confusion sowed by fund managers, the capital gains rate for those who actually invest would not be altered.
Citizens for Tax Justice also issued a statement responding to the claim that the real estate industry would be damaged if the carried interest loophole is closed. The vast majority of people who are affected by what goes on in the real estate industry -- realtors, construction workers and home-buyers -- pay income taxes at ordinary rates like everyone else, meaning that they are paying for this loophole rather than benefiting from it.
Most important, however, was the willingness of hundreds of state and local organizations from around the country to tell Congress that this loophole is simply unfair to ordinary taxpayers in their states. Thanks to all the organizations that joined the sign-on letter urging Congress to close the loophole.
Battle Ahead in the Senate
Several in the Senate have suggested that it will be difficult to secure the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster in their chamber and approve this bill. Many Republican Senators, including the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, Charles Grassley (R-IA) have made clear that they would rather increase the federal budget deficit than pay for AMT relief. We would suggest that any anti-tax conservative in the Senate who wants to take responsibility for filibustering AMT relief for millions of taxpayers should go ahead and do so to make his or her position clear to the public.