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Congress Prepares for 2015

12.09.2014

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The results of the mid-term elections create a new dynamic in Congress with Republicans poised to take control of both the House and Senate in January. Prospects for tax reform may have brightened for 2015. In the meantime, the lame-duck Congress must deal with some urgent tax bills, most notably the tax extenders.

Expired tax breaks

As the 2015 filing season grows closer, lawmakers are under pressure to renew a package of expired tax incentives, known as tax extenders. There are more than 50 expired extenders that impact individuals and businesses. For individuals, some of the most far-reaching are the above-the-line deduction for higher education expenses, state and local sales tax deduction, mortgage debt forgiveness, deduction for mortgage interest premiums, credit for energy improvements to personal residences, and the teachers' classroom expense deduction. For businesses, key expired incentives include the research tax credit, special expensing rules for film and television productions, bonus depreciation, enhanced small business expensing, incentives to encourage production of wind energy and alternative fuels. All of these incentives expired after December 31, 2013. That means taxpayers cannot claim them on their 2014 returns filed in 2015 unless the incentives are extended.

Many Congressional staffers and Hill observers predict that lawmakers will renew the extenders in December. On December 3, the House passed a bill for a one-year extension through the end of 2014 on the more than 50 tax relief provisions that expired at the end of 2013. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill this week. Since Congress has run out of negotiating time, altering or amending the bill is unlikely. President Obama has not said whether he would sign the bill, but he has indicated he is open to a short-term extension. Our office will keep you posted of developments as tax filing season approaches.

The IRS has cautioned that the longer Congress waits to renew the extenders the greater the likelihood that the start of the 2015 filing season will be delayed. The IRS's return processing systems are programmed for the current tax laws. The IRS must update its return processing systems for any changes that lawmakers make to the tax laws, such as renewing the extenders. Late legislation in the past has delayed the start of the filing season by around two weeks.

Looking ahead

When the new Congress meets in January, Republicans will have majorities in the House and in the Senate. GOP leaders have started to outline some of their priorities for 2015, including tax-related issues.

Tax reform. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., who will serve as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has indicated his interest in tax reform, but so far has not provided any details. Ryan's counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who will serve as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has also expressed support for tax reform. President Obama repeated his proposal to reduce the corporate tax rate in exchange for the elimination of some unspecified business tax breaks. Whether any tax reform proposals will gain traction in 2015 is unclear.

Affordable Care Act. Shortly after the elections, Hatch said he will propose an alternative to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as well as bills to repeal parts of the ACA, such as the medical device excise tax. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, added that the GOP-controlled House will move to repeal the ACA in 2015.

Permanent extenders. Any renewal of the extenders will be temporary, carrying a likely expiration date of December 31, 2014. Lawmakers are expected to take a close look whether to make permanent some of the extenders and allow others to expire after 2014. Good candidates for a permanent extension are the state and local sales tax deduction, the higher education tuition deduction, enhanced small business expensing, and the research tax credit. One drawback, however, is the cost of making these incentives permanent. Many lawmakers will want to offset the cost. Negotiations over the long-term fate of the extenders are likely to be contentious as taxpayers seek to preserve their special tax breaks.

Corporate profits. In 2004, lawmakers agreed to a temporary repatriation tax holiday that allowed businesses to repatriate foreign profits at lower tax levels. Similar legislation is expected to be introduced in the new Congress. Again, negotiations will be intense as some lawmakers would seek to offset the cost of a repatriation tax holiday.

Keep in mind that as 2014 draws to a close, so does the time in which to make possible tax savings moves. Renewal of some or all of the extenders could impact your year-end tax planning.

Roy KramerIf you have any questions about the lame-duck Congress and the prospect for tax legislation in the new Congress, please contact your Brown Smith Wallace tax advisor or Roy Kramer at 314.983.1265 or rkramer@bswllc.com.

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