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Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004 - Conference Report

Location: Washington DC

Sept. 23, 2004


Mr. HATCH. Mr. President, I rise to express my support for the conference report now before the Senate, which will save millions of American taxpayers from suffering a tax increase on New Years Day 2005.

I want to congratulate Chairman Grassley, who chaired this conference, as well as the other Senate and House conferees, for their perseverance in finishing this tax bill, which has presented challenges.

The individual tax cuts Congress passed in 2001 and 2003 have been instrumental in the turnaround of our economy from stagnation to healthy growth. For various reasons, when passing these bills we were not able to make the provisions of those tax cuts permanent, and some key elements of them are scheduled to expire on the last day of this year. The conference report before us extends three of these provisions for 5 years: the marriage penalty relief in the standard deduction and in the 15 percent bracket; the new 10 percent bracket; and the $1,000 per child tax credit. In addition, the legislation extends the higher thresholds for the individual alternative minimum tax for another year.

This last provision is very important to an increasing number of families in my home State of Utah, who are unfairly being thrown into the AMT regime simply because they have large families. And while this provision does not permanently fix the AMT problem, it does give temporary relief for millions of Americans who would otherwise be joining the unlucky ranks of alternative minimum tax filers.

While I would prefer to see these provisions, along with all the other parts of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts made permanent, a five-year extension is a very good step. The provisions being extended by this legislation will now be set to expire at the same time the remainder of the tax cuts run out, December 31, 2010. Thus, they can hopefully all be made permanent at the same time, which would ideally be well before that time.

I am particularly pleased to see that the conferees decided to include in the conference report the extension of a set of very important expiring business tax provisions, along with the individual ones. These include the research credit, of which I have long been an advocate. This tax credit expired on this past June 30.

As I think most of my colleagues will agree, tax provisions that are temporary add confusion, complexity, and uncertainty to our tax system. These problems are made worse when worthy provisions, such as the research credit, are allowed to expire and are then later reinstated. A permanent research credit would have been greatly preferred to our bad habit of routinely allowing vitally important tax provisions to expire and then reinstating them, sometimes months after their expiration. Such actions are often done in the name of revenue savings to the Treasury, but this is a false argument. A series of shorter-term extensions of these provisions costs no more than does a permanent extension. What this practice does, however, is contribute to the lack of confidence that taxpayers feel in our tax system, so it a corrosive thing to do.

Moreover, I am disappointed that the legislation before us does not include the Senate language that expands the research credit. The Senate version of the research credit was based on a bill authored by the Senator from Montana, Mr. Baucus, and this senator, which would have dealt with a very serious shortcoming with the current research credit. Essentially, this shortcoming prevents thousands of research-intensive firms, many in my home State of Utah, from being able to take full advantage of the incentive the research credit is supposed to provide.

Nevertheless, it is a very positive thing to have this conference report include the extension of the research credit and several other provisions that are important to American businesses and their employees and customers. This includes the work opportunity tax credit and the welfare to work credit, both of which make a difference in hiring disadvantaged workers.

I am also very pleased to see the inclusion of provisions to help military families. These brave men and women and their families who are sacrificing so much deserve to have tax provisions that at least do not penalize them for their service.

This conference report deserves the support of all of our colleagues. Is it the best tax bill we could pass? Of course not. But, given the difficulties of passing any legislation this late in the congressional session in an election year, it is quite an achievement. I again congratulate the conferees for their hard work, and I especially commend the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee for their leadership.

Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, Plato began "Book Three" of The Republic by posing the following question: Have we come here looking for genuine discourse or fool's gold?

It is hard to believe Senators are here today looking for genuine discourse.

The legislation before the Senate was packaged into a conference report to prevent Senators from offering amendments, even though the Senate never considered legislation to extend these tax cuts. The Senate Finance Committee never reported legislation to extend these tax cuts. This legislation has been rushed to the Senate floor, prohibiting any kind of meaningful debate.

I don't deny the allure of tax cuts. A $1,000 child credit for a family of four can provide some benefit for families. Likewise, the elimination of marriage tax penalties can serve a valuable social purpose. I have cosponsored legislation both to eliminate marriage penalties and to expand the child credit.

But to promise tax cuts to a worker whose job has been lost overseas, to promise tax cuts to a family that is without health insurance, to promise tax cuts to retirees whose pensions have been lost, and to pretend that a tax cut will address the plight of these working Americans, is to promise fool's gold.

The Bush administration has exhausted trillions of dollars on a failed fiscal policy that advocates tax cuts for wealthy above everything else-tax cuts before jobs, tax cuts before health care, tax cuts before pensions, tax cuts before securing out homeland, tax cuts before the needs of working American families.

American workers continue to wait for the return of the 3 million jobs lost during the Bush presidency. Unemployed workers whose jobs have been lost overseas are forced to accept low-wage positions without benefits.

Today, 45 million Americans lack health insurance. Health care costs have spiraled to prohibitive levels, and those lacking insurance are forced to do without adequate medical care. Even those with insurance are seeing their health care costs increase as employers shift the burden of higher insurance premiums to their employees.

Today, workers and retirees counting on the pension benefits promised by their employer must watch helplessly as those promised benefits are cut.

These are real issues, and, while a tax cut may put some extra money in taxpayers' pockets, it won't replace a job lost overseas, it won't replace the loss of health insurance, it won't make America safer, and it won't protect against the loss of a pension.

Nevertheless, I recognize that, while doing little to address these underlying economic concerns, it will, at least, provide some relief to working American families. Further, it will preserve scarce resources for working families and prevent those resources from being siphoned away to finance tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

I will vote for this legislation, but I caution workers not to be fooled by the rhetoric that will accompany its passage.

This administration, this Congress is no friend of the working man.

Whatever dollars you receive from these tax cuts, they will not offset the wages that this administration has taken from you by denying you overtime pay, by blocking an increase in the minimum wage, and by refusing unemployment benefits for jobless workers.

The Bush administration's fiscal policies have squandered the limited opportunities available to help American families find work, to provide American families with health care, to protect the pensions of retirees.

This legislation is throwing a bone to the middle-class after 3 years of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. It is something, but it is far, far less than what is needed and suggests only the callous indifference of this President and this Congress to the needs of working American families.

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