By ALAN FRAM, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — Democrats want to push tax cuts through the Senate for companies that hire new workers, give raises or buy major new equipment this year.
With neither party eager to let the other claim campaign-season victories, the ultimate fate of the roughly $29 billion legislation seems dubious. Debate was to begin Tuesday, though it was possible Republicans would use procedural blockades to quickly derail the measure.
The legislation would grant tax credits – which are subtracted from a company's tax bill – equal to 10 percent of the amount its 2012 payroll exceeds the salaries it paid in 2011. The maximum credit would be $500,000, a figure that would disproportionately help smaller businesses.
It would also let companies that buy major new property in 2012, such as machinery, deduct the entire cost of the purchase this year. Currently they can only deduct half the amount.
In an election year in which the slumping economy gives President Barack Obama and the Senate's majority Democrats little to boast about, the proposal lets Democrats take the offensive on the tax issue while asserting they are trying to encourage job creation. It was reaching the floor days after the latest gloomy Labor Department report that a scant 80,000 jobs were created last month, leaving the unemployment rate at a rugged 8.2 percent.
"This tax cut is by no means a cure-all, but it could be a difference-maker for small firms on the fence about adding payroll," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "After last month's sluggish jobs numbers, we may be on the verge of a rare moment of agreement on how to help the economy."
On Monday, Obama proposed continuing wide-ranging tax cuts – which will otherwise lapse in January – for most taxpayers, while letting them expire for households making more than $250,000 annually. He argued that the rich should contribute to deficit reduction efforts.
Republicans want all the tax cuts to be renewed and have opposed Democratic efforts to omit the highest earners, saying that would hurt businesses.
"If my friends on the other side of the aisle truly care about small businesses, as I know they do, then they should join us in stopping these tax hikes that will hit those very same people if the president has his way," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said of Obama's proposal and the Senate Democratic bill. "If small businesses need help then the best thing we can do is stop all the tax increases."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, plans for a House vote on renewing all those tax cuts later this month. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is likely to hold a Senate vote in July on Obama's proposal to renew the expiring tax reductions for all but those earning more than $250,000.
It was unclear whether Republicans would demand opportunities to reshape the business tax cuts or to force votes on other topics as the price for letting debate begin on the Democratic bill.
The legislation contrasts with a $46 billion measure Republicans pushed through the GOP-run House in April granting 20 percent tax deductions to all businesses with fewer than 500 employees – more than 99 percent of the nation's companies. It drew a veto threat from Obama and has gone nowhere in the Senate.
Both measures were unpaid for, meaning that if enacted, their price tags would make federal deficits bigger.
Both parties support the tax breaks for equipment purchase, though critics have questioned their job-creation potential because they say they would cut taxes for companies that would have bought items anyway.
Payroll Tax Cut
At the center of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/13/boehner-obama-gop-jobs-plan_n_1009991.html" target="_hplink">President Obama's 2011 jobs bill</a> is the proposal to extend and expand the payroll tax cut. The current cut, which lowered payroll taxes from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for salaries up to $106,000, expires at the end of this year. Though the president's jobs bill failed to pass the Senate this October, extending the payroll tax relief has garnered approval from GOP politicians in the past. A 2010 bill extending Bush administration tax cuts, which passed with bipartisan support, included a provision for a payroll tax credit. In a <a href="http://hatch.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/releases?ID=0140aded-1b78-be3e-e0fe-71216ad84ac6" target="_hplink">press release</a> announcing the legislation, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) praised the provision as a "reasonable" and "conservative" way to get the economy going. "The payroll tax cut that is the center piece of this bill is a targeted, reasonable way to get employers hiring again," said Hatch in the release. "This is a conservative approach to help put our economy back on track through tax relief not more government spending." Hatch, an original sponsor of the measure, told HuffPost he's now undecided as to whether continue backing it, echoing a position now held by the bulk of his party, including <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/18/paul-ryan-tax-increases-middle-class_n_968408.html" target="_hplink">Herman Cain and Paul Ryan.</a> Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-Ky) said a payroll tax suspension was floated during a GOP discussion in 2009 as a possible alternative to stimulus. "It would put a lot of money back in the hands of businesses and in the hands of individuals," McConnell said, <a href="http://www.usnews.com/news/stimulus/articles/2009/01/13/obama-democrats-reshape-tax-relief-measures-in-stimulus-package" target="_hplink">according to <em>U.S. News</em></a>. "Republicans, generally speaking, from Maine to Mississippi, like tax relief." Last month House Majority Leader Eric Cantor implied his support, describing the tax cut as "something I supported in the past" and "will be part of the discussions ongoing," <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-09-07/cantor-leaves-door-open-to-supporting-obama-payroll-tax-cut-extension-plan.html" target="_hplink"><em>Bloomberg</em> reported</a>. Cantor expressed a willingness to put aside partisan differences in order to create jobs, but added, there are "better ways to focus on small-business growth."
Tax Breaks For Companies Who Hire New Workers
President Barack Obama has proposed a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/obama-jobs-bill_n_1005486.html?ref=mostpopular" target="_hplink"> tax break for companies</a> that hire new workers, a tactic the federal government hasn't tried since the 1970s. Two years ago House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, then Republican whip, expressed support for the provision, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/07/business/07tax.html" target="_hplink">telling <em>The New York Times</em>,</a> "There is a lot of traction for this kind of idea. If the White House will take the lead on this, I'm fairly positive it would be welcomed in a bipartisan fashion." The proposal specifically targets unemployment, <a href="http://gov.aol.com/2011/09/08/obama-s-447-billion-jobs-plan-tax-cuts-for-employees-and-empl/" target="_hplink">offering a $4,000 tax break</a> for hiring anybody who has been looking for a job for more than six months. It has gained appeal among politicians of both parties eager to help out of work constituents, reported the <em>Times</em>. In March 2010 the <a href="http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2010/roll090.xml" target="_hplink">House</a> and <a href="http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=111&session=2&vote=00055" target="_hplink">Senate</a> passed a similar piece of legislation, the HIRE Act, with bipartisan support. The $17.5 billion year-long program included tax breaks for companies making new hires. <a href="http://www.ukprogressive.co.uk/what-is-obama%E2%80%99s-actual-record-on-creating-jobs/article14925.html" target="_hplink">According to estimates</a> from the Treasury, in the first eight months of the program 10.6 million unemployed workers were hired under the act. However, it's unclear how many would have been hired without the incentives.
Extend 100% Business Expensing
At the end of 2010, President Barack Obama signed the current 100 percent business expensing law, which <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/09/08/fact-sheet-and-overview" target="_hplink">allows companies</a> to expense in full the cost of any investments that are made. The president's proposed jobs bill would extend 100 percent expensing for another year. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) praised a similar provision in a 2008 Bush-backed economic stimulus bill. Boehner <a href="http://johnboehner.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=82527" target="_hplink">said in a press release</a>: "This will provide a particularly strong incentive for small companies to invest in their businesses so they can continue to provide good-paying jobs for the American people." The 2008 bill increased the amount businesses could expense to $250,000 and was passed with <a href="http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2008/roll025.xml" target="_hplink">bipartisan support</a>.
National Infrastructure Bank
President Barack Obama's proposed jobs bill includes a one-time appropriation of $10 billion to create a national infrastructure bank, modeled after a bipartisan bill currently in the Senate called <a href="http://kerry.senate.gov/work/issues/issue/?id=f0a4612d-382a-46fb-9d31-73e949167108" target="_hplink">the BUILD act</a>. The idea has been kicking around for <a href="http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2008/oct/09/a-new-bank-to-save-our-infrastructure/" target="_hplink">some time now</a> and has support from the business wing of the GOP. The purpose of the bank is to jump-start investment for infrastructure projects from both government and private funding. The bank would provide loans for projects with a clear public interest: new roads, bridges and mass transit, helping to create thousands of jobs, <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/09/08/fact-sheet-american-jobs-act" target="_hplink">according to the White House.</a> The BUILD act was introduced in March by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), and Mark Warner (D-Va.). <a href="http://www.uschamber.com/press/releases/2011/march/us-chamber-afl-cio-urge-infrastructure-bank" target="_hplink">At a press conference</a> announcing the bill, Hutchison praised it as "an innovative way to leverage private-public partnerships." <blockquote>This national infrastructure bank is an innovative way to leverage private-public partnerships and maximize private funding to address our water, transportation, and energy infrastructure needs. It is essential to think outside the box as we work to solve national challenges, particularly in this fiscal crisis. We must be creative to meet the needs of our country and to spur economic development and job growth while protecting taxpayers from new federal spending as much as possible.</blockquote> President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Thomas J. Donohue stated at the same event that "a national infrastructure bank is a great place to start securing the funding we need to increase mobility, create jobs, and enhance our global competitiveness." Business Roundtable President John Engler, a Republican former governor of Michigan, <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/appropriations/165357-kerry-sees-progress-on-infrastructure-bank-bill" target="_hplink">has also shown support</a> for a national infrastructure bank.
Tax Credits For Hiring Unemployed Veterans
The Returning Heroes Tax Credit, a provision of President Barack Obama's proposed jobs bill, would award businesses up to $5,600 in tax credits for hiring veterans who have been unemployed for more than six months. The Wounded Warriors Tax Credit increases the credit to $9,600 for veterans with disabilities caused by their military service. Similar legislation has been spearheaded by members of the GOP. In February Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) introduced the Hire a Hero Act, which proposed giving companies tax credits for hiring members of the National Guard and Reserve. <a href="http://boston.cbslocal.com/2011/08/06/sen-brown-willing-to-work-with-obama-on-veteran-jobs-bill/" target="_hplink">Brown said in August</a> he hopes to work with the Obama administration to pass the bill. "Our veterans sacrifice so much for us and ask for little in return," <a href="http://www.boston.com/news/politics/politicalintelligence/2011/02/brown_to_introd.html" target="_hplink">he told the <em>Boston Globe</em>,</a> "This bipartisan legislation will help put our heroes back to work." In July, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, introduced the Tax Credit to Hire Veterans Act of 2011. "This bill not only assists America's veterans, but also helps our small businesses, the engine of our economy," <a href="http://veterans.house.gov/press-release/miller-%E2%80%9Cwe-must-reduce-veteran-unemployment-less-5%E2%80%9D" target="_hplink">Miller said in a statement</a>. Reps. John Mica (R-Fla.), Jon Runyan (R-N.J.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.) later <a href="http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d112:HR02443:@@@P" target="_hplink">cosponsored the bill</a>.
Refinance Mortgages At Low Interest Rates
A provision of President Barack Obama's proposed jobs bill would allow more Americans to refinance their mortgages at a nearly 4 percent interest rate. <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/09/08/fact-sheet-american-jobs-act" target="_hplink">According to the White House,</a> the plan would put more than $2,000 a year into families' pockets. It would be a change to the existing <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/obama-still-wants-to-refinance-your-mortgage-can-that-work/2011/09/09/gIQAzqpxEK_blog.html" target="_hplink">Home Affordable Refinance Program</a> (HARP), which allows borrowers with loans guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to refinance. The proposed mortgage relief plan mirrors a plan co-authored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), the <a href="http://boxer.senate.gov/en/press/releases/071211.cfm" target="_hplink">Helping Responsible Homeowners Act of 2011.</a> The act would help homeowners with Fannie Mae- or Freddie Mac-backed mortgages to refinance at historically low interest rates. "It rewards responsible homeowners who are current on their mortgage but whose homes are 'underwater' because of the lagging economy," <a href="http://isakson.senate.gov/press/2011/091411BoxerMortgage.html" target="_hplink">said Isakson in a release</a>. Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called for an amendment to the 2009 economic stimulus package that would give low-interest loans to homeowners. The amendment, spearheaded by McConnell and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), made refinanced mortgages available at 4 to 4.5 percent. "We believe that a stimulus bill must fix the main problem first and that's housing," <a href=" http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/02/02/mcconnell-proposes-cheap-government-backed-mortgages-stimulate-economy/#ixzz1am9mXULr" target="_hplink">McConnell told reporters</a>.