House Wraps up the Year with Votes on Simple SCHIP Extension, AMT Patch, and Troop Funding
Today the U.S. House of Representatives concluded the year with votes on measures including a straightforward extension of funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a one-year Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) "patch" without tax increases to offset the cost of this correction, and a Senate amendment to the omnibus appropriations bill to provide supplemental funding for our troops in Iraq. Congressman Ryan voted in favor of these measures, which passed the House and now proceed to the President. Brief descriptions and statements by Congressman Ryan about these votes are below:
SCHIP Extension (S. 2499)
Among its provisions, S. 2499 extends SCHIP funding through March 31, 2009. (The bill also provides a temporary update to the Medicare physician reimbursement rate through June 30, 2008.) Ryan had supported and cosponsored previous legislation to extend the existing program. He opposed flawed legislation that would have significantly expanded government-run health care through SCHIP, providing taxpayer-funded coverage for middle-income families and people who already have insurance. Today's bill is a simple extension of funding for the existing program.
"I'm glad to see this clear-cut extension of the existing SCHIP pass," said Ryan. "I've always supported an extension, but until now this Congress has insisted on expanding the program beyond its original scope and putting even greater pressure on our already unsustainable entitlement spending. Now we need to make progress on health care reform that gives everyone access to health coverage, while improving quality and making sure patients and their doctors are in charge of their medical care - not bureaucrats."
Temporary AMT patch (Senate Amendment to H.R. 3996)
The Senate-amended version of H.R. 3996 places a clean one-year "patch" on the exemption level for the AMT to help protect middle-income taxpayers from the ever-growing reach of this illegitimate tax. When the AMT was created in 1969, it was aimed at preventing 155 wealthy taxpayers from escaping their legitimate tax obligations; however, it was not indexed for inflation and threatened to ensnare 23 million taxpayers in 2007 if Congress did not enact a fix.
Unlike legislation considered earlier this fall by the House, today's "patch" does not try to raise taxes to prevent an AMT tax increase on middle-income Americans. Nor does it propose controlling spending to lessen the impact of this patch on revenues flowing into the federal government. Unfortunately, by delaying approval of this patch until mid-December, the Majority has likely caused unnecessary delay in the IRS' efforts to provide tax refunds and confusion on the part of taxpayers trying to prepare their returns for 2007. Ryan voted in favor of the temporary patch, although he would rather see Congress repeal the AMT altogether to prevent the recurring problem of this unintended tax hike on middle-income taxpayers. Ryan has introduced the Taxpayer Choice Act, which repeals the AMT and gives taxpayers the option of a simpler alternative to the current income tax.
"The AMT was never intended to grow out of control and become the burden it is today for law-abiding, middle-income taxpayers," Ryan said. "I'd rather see Congress eliminate this unfair tax altogether, but I'm glad that at least a short-term patch was finally approved - without other tax hikes that hurt our economy. I have introduced a plan to repeal the AMT once and for all and give taxpayers the choice of a simpler income tax system, and I'll continue to push for this solution next year."
Senate Amendment to Add Funding for Troops in Iraq to Omnibus Spending Bill (Senate Amendments to H.R. 2764)
On Monday, Congressman Ryan voted against an omnibus appropriations bill (H.R. 2764) that rolled together spending for 11 regular appropriations bills into one mammoth package. The 3,565-page bill, which stood more than a foot tall, was filed at 12:30am on Monday - giving Members of Congress less than 24 hours to examine its contents before the vote later that day. It contained over 9,000 earmarks - around 300 of which were "air-dropped" in at the end of the process, without receiving scrutiny by the House and Senate during earlier consideration of spending bills. It also included billions in emergency-designated spending, some of which was for predictable funding, such as $100 million for presidential security at political conventions, $14.5 million for Court of Appeals salaries and expenses, and $20 million for Farm Service Agency salaries and expenses. This suggests the use of the "emergency spending" designation as a budget gimmick to avoid budget restraints. On top of this, the bill on which the House voted Monday did not include funding for U.S. troops in Iraq - though it provided $31 billion in war funding for Afghanistan.
The Senate amended this sweeping spending bill to include funding for operations in Iraq, and Congressman Ryan voted today to agree to the Senate's amendment inserting this troop funding.
"Our troops in Iraq are doing their jobs extremely well under difficult circumstances and achieving results. The security situation has been improving, and our military men and women need our support to continue their progress, so they can come home as soon as possible - leaving a more stable Iraq that's able to defend itself. Unfortunately, the overall omnibus bill shows Congress still lacks discipline when it comes to spending. At the very least, Congress and the public should have had more of a chance to examine the contents of this huge bill before it came to a vote," Ryan said.