With just a few short weeks before the end of the year, the lame duck Congress took some action this week on priority legislation.
Budget and Taxes
Both the House and Senate approved this week a two-week extension of the continuing resolution currently funding the government, giving themselves until Dec. 18 to finalize a longer-term budget.
There is talk of a new continuing resolution that would run through the end of the FY2011 fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2011, as either a replacement for or an addition to an omnibus budget package that makes changes to FY2010 spending levels.
Finalizing a plan to fund the government gained new political importance this week when every Republican in the Senate signed on to a letter saying they would filibuster all legislation until funding for the new fiscal year and expiring tax credits are addressed.
The tax credit issue was taken up by the House on Thursday with a vote to permanently extend Bush-era tax cuts for those making less than $250,000. This proposal is expected to be taken on by the Senate over the weekend, though it is unlikely to gain votes from Senate Republicans.
Biofuels Tax Credits
Pressure from the agriculture industry, Members of Congress and others continues on the issue of expiring biofuels tax credits.
On Tuesday, 15 Senators wrote their chamber’s leaders asking that extension of the credits be a priority in the lame duck session. One proposal, from Senate Finance Committee Chairman and long-time agriculture supporter Max Baucus (D-Mont.), would extend through 2011 existing ethanol tax credits and reinstate the $1 per gallon biodiesel tax credit that expired at the end of 2009. However, the bill would also extend Bush-era tax cuts at lower levels than Senate Republicans are likely to accept, making passage a challenge.
NAWG and other agriculture groups also continue to work to press this issue, officially stating their support in a mid-November letter available online at www.wheatworld.org/cellulosicethanol.
Despite popular support on the Hill and among constituents, two separate votes to ease the burden of new 1099 reporting requirements failed on Monday.
Under Senate procedures, both amendments were required to get a two-thirds supermajority, or 67 votes. One, from Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), failed that mark in a 61 to 35 vote, while another from Baucus failed by a 44 to 53 vote.
The new requirements obligate businesses to issue a Form 1099 to goods and service providers they pay more than $600 during a tax year, which has drawn concern from representatives of small business owners, including agriculture groups like NAWG.
The Senate passed a long-pending food safety bill Tuesday by a 73 to 25 margin, though it now appears the chamber may have to take up the legislation again next week.
The Constitution requires revenue-raising measures to originate in the House, which caused House Members to object to various permitting and inspection fees included in the Senate-passed food safety measure. The House is expected to take up the bill next week, likely fixing the problem before sending it back to the Senate for reconsideration.
A summary of provisions in the Senate-passed bill is at www.wheatworld.org/foodsafety under “Related Resources”.
On Thursday, the House passed legislation to reauthorize childhood nutrition programs by a 264 to 157 vote. The bill is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama soon.
The $4.5 billion reauthorization, in part, would add funding to the National School Lunch Program to help schools purchase healthier foods, including additional purchases of whole grain cereals and breads.
Offsets for the bill came from other nutrition programs, including $2.2 billion trimmed from higher levels of food stamp benefits added by the stimulus bill; $1.3 billion from a restructuring of a nutrition education program for food stamp beneficiaries; and $1 billion from a provision allowing the value of surplus commodity purchases to be included in the school lunch budget.