A Chance For Congress To Get Something Done

[ Posted Wednesday, January 17th, 2024 – 16:44 UTC ]

It's mostly been lost in the fray of yet another government shutdown crisis, but there was actually some good news out of Washington this week. Congress (are you sitting down?) could actually be on the brink of doing something. No, really! And even more surprising: they could be on the brink of doing something good.

These days, Congress accomplishing anything productive is almost shocking. They spend most of their time on vacation, and when they do deign to return to Washington, they spend most of their time fighting pointless political battles or endlessly delaying the things that they absolutely must do -- like passing a budget. The budget deadline that arrives this Friday night is actually already months overdue, since the federal budget for this fiscal year was supposed to have been in place by the first of October. They are now looking at the first of March for when they could possibly accomplish the job -- which means that five months of the federal fiscal year will already have passed by the time they get their act together. That's if they are successful, mind you, which is in no way guaranteed. They could be always be forced to punt the deadline again.

That is pretty much par for the course for Congress, especially one with a Republican-led House that is about as dysfunctional as can be imagined. Instead of actually doing their job on the budget, the GOP House is wandering in the weeds of impeaching someone from Joe Biden's administration (any cabinet member will do, it seems) for the high crime of not implementing a Republican agenda. I wish I were joking, but I am not.

But in the midst of all the intense budget negotiations which are taking place (and have been, for months), a pair of legislators got together on an issue in an attempt to beat a deadline of the end of this month. That's when the tax code will be frozen into stone for the 2023 filing season. So any changes to the tax code must be in place by then or they'll have to wait for next year's tax season to take place.

This week, the bipartisan pair unveiled their plan:

For more than a year now, legislators have been hashing out a trade. Republicans wanted to renew a slew of corporate tax breaks that had recently expired; in exchange, Democrats demanded an expansion of a tax credit to slash child poverty. Kids deserved at least as much as corporations, Democrats argued.

After seemingly interminable stagnation, something amazing happened over the holiday weekend: The haggling worked.

The two chairs of their respective tax-writing committees, Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Jason Smith, made the announcement. The $78 billion deal is balanced, with equal amounts of money going to the Child Tax Credit and to business tax breaks, and it is actually paid for (by getting rid of a COVID-era program that wasn't working as intended).

Of course, the deal isn't perfect. It's a compromise. And there is no guarantee that it'll pass, either before the end-of-January deadline or afterwards.

Most Democrats have wanted to expand the Child Tax Credit for a simple reason: it works. It is one of the easiest ways to fight child poverty, in fact. During the COVID pandemic, the program was expanded to provide monthly checks to parents across the country, and as a direct result child poverty was cut roughly in half. That's an astoundingly good result. But when it came time to talk about making such an obviously beneficial program permanent, one Democratic senator -- Joe Manchin -- decided to kill the program because he thought that all the money was just being spent on illegal drugs by the parents. So it died, and the child poverty rates went right back up to where they had previously been. Thanks for nothing, Joe.

The compromise just announced isn't as generous as the COVID-era program. It wouldn't be as effective in reducing child poverty -- but it would indeed be a step in the right direction. By one estimate, increasing the Child Tax Credit would benefit 16 million low-income children and could lift 400,000 of them above the poverty line. That is nothing to sneeze at. In exchange for helping poor children, the Republicans got an equal amount of business-friendly tax breaks. So there are reasons on both sides of the aisle to support the compromise.

It is unclear what the chances are that this plan can pass, though. The end of the month is right around the corner, so the plan could either be attached to one of the budget measures that must pass or it could be introduced as a standalone bill. Both Democrats and Republicans could work together to get it passed so they could have something positive to campaign on later in the year.

The plan is the work of one Democrat and one Republican, and will doubtlessly face pushback from both sides, for various reasons. But neither the Child Tax Credit nor the business tax programs are inherently politically offensive enough to either side of the aisle. There are no "poison pills" in the bill, to put this another way, for either Republicans or Democrats. It is a genuine compromise on fairly non-contentious tax policy issues. So the plan has to be seen as at least having a chance of passage.

These days, that's quite an accomplishment. Congress could actually come together in a bipartisan fashion and get something good done that will directly impact millions of families and give businesses some tax breaks as well. That's a win-win for both Democrats and Republicans. As I said, I have no real idea what the plan's chances are going to be -- the paths to passage in Congress are rough while the paths to gumming up the works and getting nothing done are many. Perhaps the deadline will provide enough motivation to get a bill across the finish line -- Congress always works better when they are staring deadlines in the face, after all. But at least there is now a chance of a bipartisan tax bill making it onto President Joe Biden's desk which would help millions of American families. Congress could prove that it still can get things done, even in the midst of their previously-scheduled budget follies. Which would be a pleasant surprise indeed.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


One Comment on “A Chance For Congress To Get Something Done”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    A Chance For Congress To Get Something Done

    Isn't every day a chance? ;)

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