WASHINGTON — Dozens of tax breaks designed to help a wide variety of interests — students, teachers, energy companies and lots of others — are due to expire at the end of the year, and most of them have been tacked on to the White House/Republican tax-cut deal to help it get through Congress.
The Senate is scheduled to take its first test vote on the package Monday afternoon, and now that the package has ballooned to include these breaks, it's expected to pass.
Inclusion of the breaks is either traditional Washington capitulation to special interests or vital help for industries and consumers who badly need it, depending on one's point of view.
"People who benefit from these smaller items put on a big push. It's worth a lot of money to them, and they can hire the lobbyists to help. There's really nobody on the other side arguing against this," said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan research group.
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Tom Buis, the CEO of Growth Energy, which promotes ethanol and got incentives in the bill, had a different take: "In a weak economy, you just can't cut off tax programs without creating havoc out there."
Most of the smaller measures weren't included in the original framework that President Obama and Republican congressional leaders announced Monday, which led many senators and members of the House of Representatives to protest.
On Thursday, 17 senators, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., wrote a letter saying they'd find it difficult to support the tax deal unless it continued a program, also due to expire Dec. 31, that allows renewable energy companies to continue using certain existing tax credits.
The bill also now extends dozens of other expiring provisions, usually for a year or two.
Over the years, it's become popular in Congress to pass such tax cuts on a "temporary" rather than permanent basis. That helps to mask their long-term cost, and it helps politicians show constituents —and special interests — that they can make the system work.
"Both Democrats and Republicans like this. They can say they're tax cutters, not big spenders," said Chris Edwards, the director of tax policy at Washington's Cato Institute, a libertarian research group. "But no economist thinks these temporary fixes are good policy."