McConnell rules out shutdown, wants earlier tax extenders

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Aug. 6, 2015 - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell flatly ruled out a government shutdown this fall but was less certain on when Congress would revive a series of expired tax benefits, including biofuel credits and the popular Section 179 expensing allowance. 

At a press conference, McConnell also ruled out taking up immigration reform, saying that issue was off the table until at least 2017 because of President Obama's executive actions, now stalled by a federal judge. 

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The House and Senate, which are now in recess until September, face a long list of unfinished business in the fall, including spending and tax issues and a long-term surface transportation authorization bill. 

McConnell, R-Ky., signaled his willingness to negotiate with Democrats over fiscal 2016 spending levels. 

“I'm not opposed to negotiation….We'll talk about it and try to figure out what the way forward is. Each side will have to give some things that they don't want to give, and we'll get to an agreement.” 

Senate Democrats refused to allow the Senate to consider any of its fiscal 2016 appropriations bills because Republicans have insisted on adhering to the domestic spending caps agreed to in the 2011 budget law. Republicans have a strong incentive, however, to agree to higher spending levels because the resulting appropriations bill would serve as a legislative vehicle to block or at least stall a range of regulations. 

“We're going to have a discussion in the fall. They forced it,” McConnell said of the Democratic strategy.

McConnell's refusal to consider a government shutdown was a clear shot at Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who suggested it might be necessary to defund Planned Parenthood. Cruz instigated the last shutdown - in October 2013. 

“This a tactic that's been tried going back to the ‘90s, frequently by Republican majorities. They always have the same ending...The focus is on the fact that the government is shut down, not on what the underlying issue that is being protested is,” McConnell said. 

Congress is expected to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government operating when the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1 to allow time for negotiation on spending and policy issues. 

McConnell was less clear on when Congress would deal with the tax extenders. The Senate Finance Committee last month approved a two-year extension of a higher Section 179 expensing allowance as well as tax credits that subsidize biodiesel and wind power.

House Republican leaders have indicated, however, that they wanted to tie the tax extenders to a broader tax package as well as a long-term highway bill. 

“We're going to do an extender package. I hope we don't do it at the end of the year like we did last year, because taxpayers then end up going through the whole tax year not knowing the tax implications of the decisions they're making…I don't like it and hopefully we won't do that,” McConnell said. 

McConnell indicated that he wanted to keep the tax issue separate from the highway bill. The Senate passed a long-term highway bill last week, and the House is expected to begin work on its version in September. Highway funding is scheduled to expire Oct. 29, but Congress is expected to pass another short-term extension to give time for House and Senate negotiations on a long-term bill. 

Also on the congressional to-do list is a possible Pacific Rim trade agreement, although the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations bogged down last week largely over a dispute on dairy trade. 

“We are watching carefully what's going on in the negotiations of the TPP, “ McConnell said, adding that he has warned the administration officials that they would need near-unanimous GOP support for the deal. 

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