Editor’s Note: Weekly Tax is a weekly version of POLITICO Pro’s daily Tax policy newsletter, Morning Tax. POLITICO Pro is a policy intelligence platform that combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.
IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN: With that, we’ve reached the final (scheduled) week for Congress to be in Washington. And the big question remains: Will Democrats and Republicans be able to come together on a coronavirus relief package before heading home for the holidays?
If they do, signs are pointing to an increasingly narrow agreement. A bipartisan group of negotiators is still hammering out a deal in the $900 billion range and expect to release something further as soon as today. But lawmakers taking part in that process don’t sound overly optimistic.
“Now, the leadership can discard it. I can’t govern that,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “decides to do, I don’t have control over. I only can do what I can do.”
So does that mean this is all trending toward what McConnell previously laid out — a smaller deal that leaves out a big GOP priority (shielding businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits) and a prime concern for Democrats (more assistance for state and local governments)?
It seems quite possible. Here’s how House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) put it after another weekend of negotiating, noting that there would be time to double-back and take care of more controversial items.
“Democrats are not going to get everything we want. We think state and local is important. And if we can get that we want to get it. But we want to get aid out to the people who are really, really struggling and are at grave risk,” Hoyer said on CNN’s “Inside Politics.”
One big question, if this narrower measure does actually materialize: Is there also enough room for a tax title? And if so, what makes the cut?
Something else to watch out for: President Donald Trump vowed once more on Sunday to veto the annual defense authorization bill, which this year includes language that bans anonymous shell companies — the fruit of years of work by anti-corruption groups.
THE WORKWEEK IS BACK, but apparently the Cleveland baseball team’s nickname won’t be.
Well, yes, that does seem pretty high: Today marks the sweet 16 for The Millau Viaduct in southern France, which remains the tallest bridge in the world — stretching some 900 feet over the Tarn River and with a mast that reaches over 1,100 feet (higher than the Eiffel Tower).
Illuminate us with your tips and feedback.
HOW DOES THIS MATH WORK? Exactly how much funding to give the IRS has been a big battle in Washington this last decade or so. And it probably shouldn’t come as much surprise that the incoming Biden administration is likely on the side of giving the tax collector a boost.
Ben Harris, who a top economic adviser to President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign , said at an Economic Strategy Group event last week that improved tax compliance would be a slam-dunk way to battle income inequality, and suggested that the U.S. could raise well over $1 trillion over a decade with more robust enforcement out of the IRS. (Hat tip to Bloomberg Tax’s Lydia O’Neal on those comments, and it should be noted that Harris wasn’t speaking on behalf of the Biden team at that moment.)
That’s roughly in line with an estimate from former IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Natasha Sarin, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, who found that even short of $100 billion in funding for the IRS could generate as much as $1.4 trillion in new revenue over a decade.
For its part, the Congressional Budget Office recently road tested a more modest proposal, and found that increasing the IRS budget by $20 billion over a decade would bring in an extra $60 billion — a net of $40 billion in deficit reduction.
And here’s the catch: The current federal budget rules actually would score an increase in IRS funding as costing money, instead of raising revenue — as both CBO and Rossotti, Sarin and Summers all noted. (In other words: CBO counts the spending increase, but doesn’t find any resulting revenues from that new funding.)
“Perversely, this means that investments in the IRS will show up as costing the government money, even though by conservative estimates $1 spent on IRS enforcement returns $12 in additional tax revenue collected,” the trio wrote in a Tax Notes piece.
How might policymakers change that? Well, it would require CBO, the Office of Management and Budget and both the House and Senate Budget committees to all agree to that switch — so far from impossible, but also a pretty broad consensus to reach.
And yet, there is still lots of interest on the left in increasing IRS funding, even if it doesn’t score as well as they’d like. As Harris’ comments suggest, it’s also an issue of fairness to progressives, who complain that recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit can be more likely to be audited than wealthy taxpayers whose returns are more complex and costly to examine.
“We do not doubt that significant revenue will be raised in reality from the approach we outline,” as Sarin put it to Morning Tax in an email. “To be sure, as a matter of equity and efficiency these reforms are desirable even if the revenue potential were more limited.”
Also keep in mind: Congressional Republicans have battled to actually decrease IRS funding for much of the last decade, especially in the wake of the tea party controversy that erupted in 2013.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, with his business background, has been far more open to the idea that increased IRS funding can be good for the government’s bottom line. He’s not alone within the GOP, either — Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said recently he’s interested in more robust funding for the tax collector, too.
But let’s be real: It’s at the very least an open question whether there will be broad support for significantly increased IRS funding under a President Biden, for a variety of reasons — including some long memories over the scrutiny given to tea party groups and a general distrust for the agency.
GOING FOR IT: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pushing to expand Canada’s carbon tax as the country tries to hit ambitious emissions targets by 2030, Bloomberg reports. Canada is trying to get its carbon price to $170 Canadian (around $133) per metric ton in a decade, though the federal carbon tax is being challenged by resource-rich provinces like Alberta. As of now, the carbon price is projected to hit $50 Canadian in a couple years, and then bump up $15 Canadian a year after that. Alberta faces high unemployment these days, following an oil collapse this year, and its environment minister said Trudeau’s plan was “another attack on Alberta’s economy and Alberta’s jurisdiction.”
WE’LL TAKE THAT: Minnesota has a policy of garnishing people’s state tax refunds to pay for outstanding hospital bills, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports. In fact, Minnesota’s revenue department seized more than $81 million in refunds between 2014 and 2019, from some 24,000 taxpayers a year — sometimes clawing back refunds more than once from the same person. The seized funds went to pay debts at large nonprofit hospitals, which can enlist the state to funnel tax refunds their way without any involvement from the courts. Not only that: The revenue department gets a $15 fee every time it recaptures a tax refund, and doesn’t check to see if the medical debt is valid before taking the money. The state’s attorney general, Keith Ellison, has called for ending that practice, which also occurs in just one other state — South Carolina.
NBC News: “Email to Hunter Biden raises fresh questions about his tax dealings.”
Jerry Falwell Jr., the now former Liberty University president, funneled millions of the college’s dollars to Republican causes.
Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama signs emergency proclamation exempting certain CARES Act, HR 748, benefits from state taxation.
Ted Cassidy, who stood 6’9″, played the butler Lurch on “The Addams Family,” which ran from 1964 to 1966 on ABC.