WASHINGTON (AP) — Like a student who waited until the night before a deadline, lawmakers resuming work Monday will try to cram two years of leftover business into two weeks, while also seeking to avoid a government shutdown.
Their to-do list includes keeping the government running into the new year, renewing expired tax breaks for individuals and businesses and approving a defense policy measure that has passed for more than 50 years in a row.
Also pending are President Barack Obama’s requests for money to combat Islamic State militants, battle Ebola and deal with the influx of unaccompanied Central American children who have crossed into the U.S.
Among the lower-profile items on the agenda are renewing the government’s terrorism risk insurance program and extending the ban on state and federal taxes on access to the Internet.
That’s a lot to get done before the current Congress adjourns in mid-December. The new Congress, with Republicans in charge of both the House and Senate, will be seated the week of Jan. 5.
Obama’s move to protect millions of immigrants from deportation proceedings and make them eligible for work permits appears to have made it more difficult to navigate the must-do items through a Capitol where cooperation already was in short supply.
The No. 1 item is preventing a government closure when a temporary funding measure expires Dec. 11. The House and Senate Appropriations committees are negotiating a $1 trillion-plus spending bill for the budget year that began Oct. 1 and are promising to have it ready by the week of Dec. 8.
The tax-writing committees are trying to renew a bundle of expired tax breaks such as the deduction for state and local sales taxes and the research and experimentation credit. Some, like tax credits for renewable energy projects such as wind farms, are a hard sell for GOP conservatives, but eagerly sought by Midwestern Republicans such as Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa.
The House has passed legislation that would make several of the tax breaks permanent; the Senate’s approach has been to extend them only for 2014 and 2015. Negotiators appeared to near an agreement last week only to have the White House put it on ice with a veto threat. The administration said an emerging plan by House Republicans and top Senate Democrats was tilted too far in favor of businesses.
Last month, House Speaker John Boehner said he would block a bill that would support the Marketplace Fairness Act. NAED, along with a wide variety of trade and business associations, have been longtime supporters of the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow states to collect tax on Internet sales. It also provides equal footing in B2B transactions, as distributors would not be undercut on price from online-only retailers.
“This is good tax policy,” said David Quam, a deputy director of the National Governors Association, which supports the bill. “We are going to continue to sound this trumpet until the very end.”
Both Republican and Democratic senators are trying to combine the Marketplace Fairness Act with the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which will extend the band on Internet access taxes.
Backers of the online sales tax assert that it would create a more level playing field for brick-and-mortar stores and online merchants. They argue that Internet retailers have an unfair advantage if they aren’t compelled to collect sales tax.
But opponents, including some House Republicans, say the measure would increase taxes and burden small businesses.
Sen. Ted Cruz voted against the bill last year, and is showing his opposition to the measure in recent days. With Republicans set to control the House and Senate in January, he said, “it would be the height of lunacy” to enact the tax now.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democratic leader, said it’s up to the House to determine whether the bill will move this year. Cornyn said that even if the House approved a stand-alone bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., probably wouldn’t have time to schedule a vote on it before year’s end.
“The majority leader calls all the shots, and we’re running out of time,” Cornyn said.
Conservative groups argue that the legislation amounts to a new national tax. The proposal, they say, subjects all consumers to every state’s taxes.
“You can be regulated by thousands of jurisdictions for which you’ve never had a vote,” said James Gattuso, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, a Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, has said he’s drawing up alternatives to the Marketplace Fairness Act. Rep. Lamar Smith, a San Antonio Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee with Farenthold, said he’s following Goodlatte’s lead.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll come up with a resolution,” Smith said.