WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Friday indicated to Rep. Dan Rostenkowski that it can pass a bill to extend expiring tax provisions without loading the measure down with extraneous amendments.
Sen. John C. Danforth, D-Mo., told reporters that 66 senators have signed a letter stating they want the expiring provisions -- including the tax exemptions for mortgage revenue bonds and small-issue industrial development bonds -- continued beyond their Dec. 31 expiration date, and those senators will block any attempts to amend such a bill on the Senate floor.
The letter was sent to the Senate leadership, but Sen. Danforth said it was also designed to send a message to Rep. Rostenkowski, D-Ill., who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Rostenkowski has repeatedly said he sees no point in trying to pass a narrow tax bill containing only extensions of expiring provisions through the House, because Senators would jump at the chance to add their favorite amendments to it.
"The first thing we have to do is show [Rep. Rostenkowski] that it is not going to be a Christmas tree," Sen. Danforth said during a breifing in which he released the letter.
Attempts to reach aides to Rep. Rostenkowski were unsuccessful.
Earlier this week, Sen. Danforth introduced legislation to extend the group of 12 expiring provisions, including the two bond exemptions and the low-income housing tax credit, for one more year. On Thursday, the senator's office began circulating his letter, and Sen. Danforth was reported to be personally involved in the effort to get signers, buttonholding his collegues on the Senate floor as they arrived for votes on other bills.
"It's clear there is extremely strong support," for extending the expiring provisions "when this can be put together in less than 24 hours," said Sen. Danforth, a member of the Senate Finance Committee.
"I hope this will provide encouragement and impetus to bringing an extender bill first to the floor of the House, and then to the Senate," said Sen. Danforth. He said he had spoken with Finance Committee Chairman Lloyd Betnsen, D-Tex., about his letter, and Sen. Bentsen said he supported the effort to extend the expiring provisions even though he declined to sign the letter.
Action by Rep. Rostenkowski on the extensions is key because the Senate's hands are essentially tied until the Houses acts -- the Constitution requires all revenue bills to originate in the House.
The Senate could circumvent that requirement by attaching the expiring provisions to any other tax bills that have been sent over by the House, but there is only one pending -- the unemployment insurance bill -- and congressional leaders have agreed to keep amendments off it.
Sen. Danforth acknowledged the only strategy left at this point is for Congress to pass a stand-alone "extender" bill, and he also indicated that the idea of continuing the expiring provisions for less than one year has been discussed, but he preferred the extension to be a minimum of one year.
He also said he talkd to Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady about the expiring provisions, and Mr. Brady said "he wants the extenders passed," according to Sen. Danforth.