Bipartisan Senate Jobs Bill Has Highway Trust Fund Rescue But No TIGER

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and his panel's senior Republican, Chuck Grassley (IA), today offered a job-creation proposal designed to garner enough GOP votes to overcome an anticipated filibuster.

BaucusGrassleyRoundtable.jpgSenate Finance Committee chief Max Baucus (D-MT), at left, with GOP ally Chuck Grassley (IA) at right. (Photo: Baucus Press)
The measure's transportation provisions align with a draft bill floated on Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), with the nation's highway trust fund getting a financial reprieve that would last through the end of 2010, at a cost of $19.5 billion.

The bill also would reverse last year's cancellation of $8.7 billion in contract authority for road programs, including bike-ped-centric Transportation Enhancements funding.

No official budgetary impact would be tallied from the trust fund rescue, because the transfer would be counted as a restoration of interest that the Treasury has held onto for 12 years. (For more on that historical footnote, check out this post.)

Notably absent from the Baucus-Grassley measure is any new infrastructure spending, such as the $37.3 billion plan approved by the House in December. Senate Democrats have suggested such funding might come up as part of a forthcoming jobs package, but without offsets elsewhere in the budget for such an idea, GOP opposition is almost assured.

An expansion of the merit-based grants known as TIGER (short for Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery) was also left out of the Finance Committee's proposal, despite strong support from the White House for extra funding for the popular program.

Baucus and Grassley did make room in their bill, with a total price tag estimated at $84 billion, for a provision allowing the conversion of tax-credit bonds for school construction and energy projects to Build America Bonds (BABs), which offer government-subsidized interest. BABs have become a favorite tool for local and state government seeking to finance new transit and road projects, but the jobs bill's conversion language does not appear to apply to transportation.

Late Update: Reid threw cold water on Baucus and Grassley's plan this afternoon, telling reporters that he would move forward with a slimmed-down bill during the week of February 22, after Congress returns from a Presidents' Day recess.

"We're going to do a bill that has four things in it," Reid said this afternoon. In addition to a payroll tax credit aimed at boosting hiring and a small business tax credit, he said, the new Democratic legislation would include "Build America bonds, which has been so dramatically successful [and] the highway bill extension for one year, which will save a million jobs."

A full summary of the Finance Committee's plan follows after the jump.

Job Creation Provisions

Schumer-Hatch Jobs Payroll Tax Exemption.  This provision would offer an exemption from social security payroll taxes for every worker hired in 2010 that has been unemployed for at least 60 days.  The maximum value would be equal to 6.2% of wages up to the FICA wage cap ($106,800).  There would also be an additional $1,000 income tax credit for every new employee retained for 52 weeks to be taken on the employer’s 2011 income tax return.  This proposal is estimated to cost $13 billion over ten years.

Extension of Section 179 Expensing.  This provision would extend 2008 and 2009 section 179 expensing thresholds so that taxpayers may elect to write-off up to $250,000 of certain capital expenditures (subject to a phase-out once expenditures exceed $800,000) in 2010 in lieu of depreciating those costs over time.  This proposal is estimated to cost $35 million over ten years.

Election to Convert Tax Credit Bonds to Build America Bonds.  Under current law, Congress provided tax credit bonds to qualifying issuers for certain school and energy projects.  Tax credit bonds provide the bond holder a federal tax credit in lieu of interest.  Build America Bonds provide qualifying issuers a direct payment from the Treasury for a portion of the interest paid on the bond for government works projects.  This provision would allow qualifying issuers of tax credit bonds the option of issuing tax credit bonds under current law, or utilizing the direct subsidy Build America Bond structure for bonds issued after the date of enactment.  The federal subsidy would equal 45 percent of the borrowing cost (65 percent for qualifying small issuers).  The proposal is estimated to cost approximately $2 billion over ten years.

Highway Trust Fund.  This provision would extend highway and transit programs through calendar year 2010, and transfers from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund $19.5 billion in interest foregone since 1998.  It would also halt annual payments the Highway Trust Fund makes to the General Fund as reimbursement for tax-exempt users of the highway program (e.g. state/local fleets and transit providers).  This provision also repeals an $8.7 billion rescission of unobligated balances of contract authority, a provision which passed in the 2005 SAFETEA-LU legislation. This proposal has no revenue effect.

Extension of Expiring Tax Provisions

The draft HIRE Act would also extend several tax provisions that expired at the end of 2009, providing much needed tax relief for individuals and businesses.  These provisions include the research and development credit, the 15-year recovery period for leasehold, restaurant, and retail improvements, the new markets tax credit, the active finance exception under Subpart F, and the CFC look-through rules. The draft HIRE Act would also extend several energy tax provisions, including credits for home efficiency and alternative fuel vehicles, as well as for biodiesel, renewable diesel and other alternative fuels.  The draft bill also includes several disaster relief provisions.  The total cost of the extenders provisions is about $31 billion over ten years.

Pension Funding Relief

The provision would provide temporary, targeted funding relief for single employer and multiemployer pension plans that suffered significant losses in asset value due to the steep market slide in 2008.  The pension funding provisions raise about $6 billion over ten years.

Economic Safety Net Provisions

Unemployment Insurance Extension.  This provision would extend current law, including increased unemployment benefits, through May 31, 2010. Under current law, an unemployed worker may receive up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits provided by the state in which they were employed.  After the state-provided benefits are exhausted, the worker may qualify for 34 more weeks of benefits provided by the federal government.  If that person is unemployed in a state with an unemployment rate above 6 percent, they qualify for an additional 13 weeks of benefits also provided by the federal government.  Unemployed workers in states with an unemployment level over 8.5 percent qualify for an additional six weeks of benefits also provided by the federal government.  In addition, the Federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of state Extended Benefits programs which provide up to 13 additional weeks of benefits for unemployed workers who have exhausted regular state benefits or Emergency Unemployment Compensation.  Last year’s economic recovery bill increased weekly unemployment benefits by an additional $25 per week. Without extension, these provisions will expire on February 28, 2010.  This proposal is estimated to cost $22 billion over ten years.

Extension of COBRA Premium Assistance. This provision would extend the 65-percent COBRA premium subsidy for terminated workers through May 31, 2010. This provision also includes technical clarifications to the program. The proposal is estimated to cost $3 billion over ten years.

Extension of Expiring Health Care Provisions.

The draft HIRE Act also extends health provisions, a number of which expired at the end of 2009.  These provisions include a seven-month extension of the sustainable growth rate update formula.  Without this fix, physicians participating in Medicare face a 21 percent reduction in payments.  The bill also extends the exceptions process for Medicare therapy caps and extends payment provisions for mental health providers, ambulance services, physicians in areas where the work geographic practice cost index (GPCI) is below 1.0, certain physician pathology services, the rural hospital flexibility (Flex) program, improved payments for outpatient services in hospitals in rural areas, direct billing for Indian health service providers, Medicare hospital wage index reclassifications under the section 508 program, provisions concerning long-term acute care hospital services, and certain Medicare Advantage plans, including special needs plans, cost plans and senior housing programs. The draft bill would also provide an accreditation exemption for certain pharmacies that furnish durable medical equipment and would clarify eligibility for physician health information technology incentive payments. And finally, the draft bill would keep the 2009 federal poverty guidelines to protect people in means-tested programs from losing benefits and includes a provision to disregard refundable tax credits and refunds as income for twelve months from receipt. The total cost of the health extenders provisions is about $10 billion over ten years.

Other Provisions


The draft bill contains five provisions outside the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee.  These include short-term extensions of two expiring authorities under the Patriot Act, the national flood insurance program, and certain SBA loan provisions.  In addition, the draft bill includes an estimated $1.5 billion in agriculture disaster assistance and a five-year reauthorization of satellite home viewer legislation.  These provisions are estimated to cost $3 billion over ten years.

Offsets

Foreign Account Tax Compliance. These provisions include a comprehensive set of measures to reduce offshore noncompliance by giving the IRS new administrative tools to detect, deter and discourage offshore tax abuses. The proposals include 30% withholding on U.S. source payments to foreign financial institutions, foreign trusts, and foreign corporations that do not agree to disclose their U.S. account holders and owners to the IRS; requiring taxpayers to disclose their foreign accounts on their U.S. tax returns; increasing the statute of limitations to 6 years for failure to report certain offshore transactions and income; clarifying when a foreign trust is considered to have a U.S. beneficiary;  and treating substitute dividend and dividend equivalent payments to foreign persons as dividends for purposes of U.S. withholding.  This proposal is estimated to raise $9 billion over ten years.

Cellulosic Biofuels Loophole. The provision would modify the $1.01 per gallon cellulosic biofuel producer credit to exclude fuels with significant water, sediment, or ash content, such as black liquor.  The provision would exclude from the definition of cellulosic biofuel any fuels that (1) are more than four percent (according to weight) water and sediment in any combination, or (2) have an ash content of more than one percent (according to weight).  The provision would be effective for fuel sold or used after date of enactment.  This proposal is estimated to raise $24 billion over ten years.

Clarification of the Economic Substance Doctrine and Penalty for Underpayments Attributable to Transactions Lacking Economic Substance.  This provision would clarify the application of the economic substance doctrine which has been used by courts to deny tax benefits for transactions lacking economic substance.  The provision would also impose a 40% strict liability penalty on underpayments attributable to a transaction lacking economic substance (unless the transaction was disclosed, in which case the penalty is 20%). The proposal is estimated to raise $5 billion over ten years.

Reduction in the Medicare Improvement FundThe Medicare Improvement Fund (MIF) contains funds that are available to the Secretary to make improvements to the original fee-for-service program under Parts A and B of Medicare.  Under current law, approximately $20 billion is available for services furnished during FY2014.  This provision would reduce the funding available in the MIF by $8 billion.  This proposal is estimated to save $8 billion over ten years.