POLITICS
09/17/2010 12:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dems Revive 'Tax Extenders' Bill, Would Save Welfare-To-Work Program

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has revived "tax extenders" legislation that, in addition to providing a plethora of business tax cuts, would close a loophole that lets rich investment fund managers pay a lower tax rate than their dentists. The bill would also reauthorize funding for a welfare-to-work program responsible for creating 240,000 jobs.

Baucus asked the Senate Thursday for "unanimous consent" to approve the measure, which is deficit-neutral. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) shot down the request, saying he wants an open amendment process, leaving the bill's fate uncertain.

Congress is only in town for another two weeks, and if it doesn't reauthorize $1.5 billion for the welfare-to-work program -- the TANF Emergency Fund -- that program goes kaput at the end of the month, and many of the jobs it supports will go kaput as well (though some will remain, as the program's purpose is to subsidize private-sector jobs in hopes some of them will "stick" as the employees gain skills).

On Wednesday, Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) held a press conference at the Capitol with Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter and several workers and business owners who'd benefited from the program to urge the Senate to keep it alive for another year.

Advocates of the program aren't incredibly optimistic.

"It's good news if it passes, but as we've seen before, this can't pass without bipartisan support and there's no guarantee that there will be bipartisan support," said Donna Pavetti of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities in an email to HuffPost. "We have 13 days before the TANF ECF expires -- that's not a lot of time to get a bill that has any opposition through both the Senate and the House."

The tax extenders bill is supposed to be appealing to Republicans, as it's loaded with more than $17 billion in tax breaks for businesses that are reauthorized every year and considered must-pass. The bill's prospects are made murkier by the looming election and the battle over the expiring Bush tax cuts.

"If I wrote for your publication," said a senior GOP Senate aide in an email to HuffPost, "I would ask why Democrats were rolling out tax cuts for the rich and for big corporations before introducing the tax cuts for the middle class bill."

The tax extenders bill is deficit-neutral thanks largely to a $31.4 billion increase in the amount oil companies pay per barrel into the oil spill liability trust fund and a $13.5 clampdown on the "carried interest" loophole, which allows investment fund managers to treat their income as capital gains and pay less than half the maximum 35 percent tax rate that normal rich people pay.

The previous versions of the tax extenders bill, which included the above provisions, were hitched to a reauthorization of unemployment benefits and went down in flames in a series of votes over the summer as Republicans objected to helping the jobless with deficit spending.

"With all the shouting about needing to pay for things, it should be considered low-hanging fruit at this point," said U.S. PIRG's Nicole Tichon, who has long lobbied for the loophole closer and accurately predicted it would return after the unemployment debacle. "I wouldn't say I've lost all hope."