Bipartisan Senate Jobs Bill Has Highway Trust Fund Rescue But No TIGER

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and his panel’s senior Republican, Chuck Grassley (IA), today offered a job-creation proposal designed to garner enough GOP votes to overcome an anticipated filibuster.

BaucusGrassleyRoundtable.jpgSenate Finance Committee chief Max Baucus (D-MT), at left, with GOP ally Chuck Grassley (IA) at right. (Photo: Baucus Press)

The measure’s transportation provisions align with a draft bill floated on Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), with the nation’s highway trust fund getting a financial reprieve that would last through the end of 2010, at a cost of $19.5 billion.

The bill also would reverse last year’s cancellation of $8.7 billion in contract authority for road programs, including bike-ped-centric Transportation Enhancements funding.

No official budgetary impact would be tallied from the trust fund rescue, because the transfer would be counted as a restoration of interest that the Treasury has held onto for 12 years. (For more on that historical footnote, check out this post.)

Notably absent from the Baucus-Grassley measure is any new infrastructure spending, such as the $37.3 billion plan approved by the House in December. Senate Democrats have suggested such funding might come up as part of a forthcoming jobs package, but without offsets elsewhere in the budget for such an idea, GOP opposition is almost assured.

An expansion of the merit-based grants known as TIGER (short for Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery) was also left out of the Finance Committee’s proposal, despite strong support from the White House for extra funding for the popular program.

Baucus and Grassley did make room in their bill, with a total price tag estimated at $84 billion, for a provision allowing the conversion of tax-credit bonds for school construction and energy projects to Build America Bonds (BABs), which offer government-subsidized interest. BABs have become a favorite tool for local and state government seeking to finance new transit and road projects, but the jobs bill’s conversion language does not appear to apply to transportation.

Late Update: Reid threw cold water on Baucus and Grassley’s plan this afternoon, telling reporters that he would move forward with a slimmed-down bill during the week of February 22, after Congress returns from a Presidents’ Day recess.

"We’re going to do a bill that has four things in it," Reid said this afternoon. In addition to a payroll tax credit aimed at boosting hiring and a small business tax credit, he said, the new Democratic legislation would include "Build
America bonds, which has been so dramatically successful [and] the highway bill extension for one year, which will save a
million jobs."

A full summary of the Finance Committee’s plan follows after the jump.

Job Creation
Provisions

Schumer-Hatch Jobs
Payroll Tax Exemption.
  This
provision would offer an exemption from social security payroll taxes for every
worker hired in 2010 that has been unemployed for at least 60 days.  The
maximum value would be equal to 6.2% of wages up to the FICA wage cap
($106,800).  There would also be an additional $1,000 income tax credit
for every new employee retained for 52 weeks to be taken on the
employer’s 2011 income tax return.  This proposal is estimated to
cost $13 billion over ten years.

Extension of Section
179 Expensing. 
This
provision would extend 2008 and 2009 section 179 expensing thresholds so that
taxpayers may elect to write-off up to $250,000 of certain capital expenditures
(subject to a phase-out once expenditures exceed $800,000) in 2010 in lieu of
depreciating those costs over time.  This proposal is estimated to cost
$35 million over ten years.

Election
to Convert Tax Credit Bonds to Build America Bonds.
  Under
current law, Congress provided tax credit bonds to qualifying issuers for
certain school and energy projects.  Tax credit bonds provide the bond
holder a federal tax credit in lieu of interest.  Build America Bonds
provide qualifying issuers a direct payment from the Treasury for a portion of
the interest paid on the bond for government works projects.  This
provision would allow qualifying issuers of tax credit bonds the option of
issuing tax credit bonds under current law, or utilizing the direct subsidy
Build America Bond structure for bonds issued after the date of
enactment.  The federal subsidy would equal 45 percent of the borrowing
cost (65 percent for qualifying small issuers).  The proposal is
estimated to cost approximately $2 billion over ten years.

Highway Trust Fund. 
This provision would extend
highway and transit programs through calendar year 2010, and transfers from the
General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund $19.5 billion in interest foregone since
1998.  It would also halt annual payments the Highway Trust Fund makes to
the General Fund as reimbursement for tax-exempt users of the highway program
(e.g. state/local fleets and transit providers).  This provision also
repeals an $8.7 billion rescission of unobligated balances of contract
authority, a provision which passed in the 2005 SAFETEA-LU legislation. This
proposal has no revenue effect.

Extension of
Expiring Tax Provisions

The draft HIRE Act would
also extend several tax provisions that expired at the end of 2009, providing much
needed tax relief for individuals and businesses.  These provisions
include the research and development credit, the 15-year recovery period for
leasehold, restaurant, and retail improvements, the new markets tax credit, the
active finance exception under Subpart F, and the CFC look-through rules. The
draft HIRE Act would also extend several energy tax provisions, including
credits for home efficiency and alternative fuel vehicles, as well as for
biodiesel, renewable diesel and other alternative fuels.  The draft bill
also includes several disaster relief provisions.  The total cost of
the extenders provisions is about $31 billion over ten years.

Pension Funding
Relief

The provision would provide
temporary, targeted funding relief for single employer and multiemployer
pension plans that suffered significant losses in asset value due to the steep
market slide in 2008.  The pension funding
provisions raise about $6 billion over ten years.

Economic Safety Net
Provisions

Unemployment
Insurance Extension.
 This
provision would extend current law, including increased unemployment benefits,
through May 31, 2010. Under current law, an unemployed worker may receive up to
26 weeks of unemployment benefits provided by the state in which they were
employed.  After the state-provided benefits are exhausted, the worker may
qualify for 34 more weeks of benefits provided by the federal government. 
If that person is unemployed in a state with an unemployment rate above 6
percent, they qualify for an additional 13 weeks of benefits also provided by
the federal government.  Unemployed workers in s
tates with an unemployment level over 8.5 percent qualify for an additional six weeks of benefits also
provided by the federal government
.  In addition, the Federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of
state Extended Benefits programs which provide up to 13 additional weeks of
benefits for unemployed workers who have exhausted regular state benefits or
Emergency Unemployment Compensation.  Last year’s economic recovery
bill increased weekly
unemployment benefits by an additional $25 per
week. Without extension, these provisions will expire
on February 28, 2010. 
This proposal is estimated to cost $22 billion
over ten years. 

Extension of COBRA
Premium Assistance.
This
provision would extend the 65-percent COBRA premium subsidy for terminated
workers through May 31, 2010. This provision also includes technical
clarifications to the program. The proposal is estimated to cost $3 billion
over ten years.

Extension of
Expiring Health Care Provisions. 

The draft HIRE Act also
extends health provisions, a number of which expired at the end of 2009. 
These provisions include a seven-month extension of the sustainable growth rate
update formula.  Without this fix, physicians participating in Medicare
face a 21 percent reduction in payments.  The bill also extends the
exceptions process for Medicare therapy caps and extends payment provisions for
mental health providers, ambulance services, physicians in areas where the work
geographic practice cost index (GPCI) is below 1.0, certain physician pathology
services, the rural hospital flexibility (Flex) program, improved payments for
outpatient services in hospitals in rural areas, direct billing for Indian
health service providers, Medicare hospital wage index reclassifications under
the section 508 program, provisions concerning long-term acute care hospital
services, and certain Medicare Advantage plans, including special needs plans,
cost plans and senior housing programs. The draft bill would also provide an
accreditation exemption for certain pharmacies that furnish durable medical
equipment and would clarify eligibility for physician health information
technology incentive payments. And finally, the draft bill would keep the 2009
federal poverty guidelines to protect people in means-tested programs from
losing benefits and includes a provision to disregard refundable tax credits
and refunds as income for twelve months from receipt. The total cost of the
health extenders provisions is about $10 billion over ten years.

Other Provisions

The draft bill contains five
provisions outside the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee.  These
include short-term extensions of two expiring authorities under the Patriot
Act, the national flood insurance program, and certain SBA loan
provisions.  In addition, the draft bill includes an estimated $1.5
billion in agriculture disaster assistance and a five-year reauthorization of
satellite home viewer legislation.  These provisions are estimated to
cost $3 billion over ten years.

Offsets

Foreign Account Tax
Compliance
. These provisions include a comprehensive set of
measures to reduce offshore noncompliance by giving the IRS new administrative tools
to detect, deter and discourage offshore tax abuses. The proposals include
30% withholding on U.S. source payments to foreign financial institutions,
foreign trusts, and foreign corporations that do not agree to disclose their
U.S. account holders and owners to the IRS; requiring taxpayers to disclose
their foreign accounts on their U.S. tax returns; increasing the statute of
limitations to 6 years for failure to report certain offshore transactions and
income; clarifying when a foreign trust is considered to have a U.S.
beneficiary;  and treating substitute dividend and dividend equivalent
payments to foreign persons as dividends for purposes of U.S.
withholding.  This proposal is estimated to raise $9 billion over ten
years.

Cellulosic
Biofuels Loophole.
The provision would modify the $1.01 per gallon
cellulosic biofuel producer credit to exclude fuels with significant water,
sediment, or ash content, such as black liquor.  The provision would
exclude from the definition of cellulosic biofuel any fuels that (1) are more
than four percent (according to weight) water and sediment in any combination,
or (2) have an ash content of more than one percent (according to
weight).  The provision would be effective for fuel sold or used after
date of enactment.  This proposal is estimated to raise $24 billion
over ten years. 

Clarification of the
Economic Substance Doctrine and Penalty for Underpayments Attributable to
Transactions Lacking Economic Substance
. 
This provision would clarify the application of the economic substance doctrine
which has been used by courts to deny tax benefits for transactions lacking
economic substance.  The provision would also impose a 40% strict
liability penalty on underpayments attributable to a transaction lacking economic
substance (unless the transaction was disclosed, in which case the penalty is
20%). The proposal is estimated to raise $5 billion over ten years. 

Reduction
in the Medicare Improvement Fund
The Medicare Improvement Fund (MIF)
contains funds that are available to the Secretary to make improvements to the
original fee-for-service program under Parts A and B of Medicare.  Under
current law, approximately $20 billion is available for services furnished
during FY2014.  This provision would reduce the funding available in the
MIF by $8 billion.  This proposal is estimated to save $8 billion over
ten years.

  • MAT

    And the Senate once again fails the American people. Thanks Mitch McConnell!

  • I am a little confused as to how a transfer of funds from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund is considered to have “no revenue effect.” Are there no purposes that $19.5 billion in the General Fund would be used for if it isn’t moved over to the Highway Trust Fund? Can someone explain this?

  • Hi Chris … If you click on the link I mentioned in the fourth paragraph of the post, you’ll see a full explanation of the budget wizardry that allows the $19.5B to technically have “no revenue effect.” In short, though, it comes down to a 1998 deal struck to prevent the highway trust fund from accruing interest. By reversing that deal and crediting the fund with interest earned over the past several years, the transfer of money is allowed to be scored as neutral.

  • Thanks, Elana. That helps. I imagine there will be further interesting (creative?) accounting to report on this year for the HTF. Hope you continue to dig into it.

  • Minneapolis John

    I find it very comical and deeply frustrating that, all government employees with unlimited job security, enjoying uninterrupted pay checks month after month, “leased bothered” about putting the engineering/construction american workers back to work!

    They seem to be in NO BIG HURRY to create jobs for the unemployed, while attending to their “more important business affairs as usual”

    Let’s JUST take care of our friends and family in the business and HELL with everyone else, while the other families starve because it ain’t my spouse, brother of sister…..

  • I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.
    Regards:
    NABH

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