WASHINGTON -- Senate Finance Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen said yesterday he expects Congress to draft a tax bill in the fall but is uncertain whether it would include extensions of expiring provisions, such as the tax exemptions for mortgage revenue bonds and small-issue industrial development bonds.
The Texas Democrat said in a brief interview that his committee's version of tax legislation could contain such measures as the tax-exempt bond simplification proposals he developed with Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., legislation to provide tax relief to middle-income taxpayers, and his own proposal to expand individual retirement accounts.
But when asked whether the bill also would extend expiring provisions, Sen. Bentsen said, "That's one of the major considerations, but we haven't resolved that yet." The mortgage bond and IDB exemptions are scheduled to expire Dec. 31.
Rep. Rostenkowski, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has repeatedly said he wants to move forward with a tax simplification bill but does not want to see it loaded down with other items, such as extensions of expiring provisions. He also has said he is worried the House could pass a narrow bill only to see it become a "Christmas tree" in the Senate, with various senators favorite amendments added to it.
Sen. Bentsen, who was speaking after a finance committee hearing on his IRA proposal, did not say what the stumbling block was to extending the approximately 12 expiring provisions. But all year congressional aides and lobbyists have said Congress would have a difficult time finding the estimated $2 billion needed to continue them for another year.
In previous years, tax lawmakers drafted large revenue-raising bills to help reduce the deficit and siphoned off a portion of those revenue increases to cover the revenue losses the extensions would cause.
But with a five-year deficit reduction package now in place, no such large revenue bill is needed for the next several years. That has left some supporters of expiring provisions worried that Congress will not be able to come up with revenue increases to extend the provisions again this year.
Tax lawmakers in the House, at least, already seem to be showing signs of wanting to avoid any tax increases this year. On Tuesday, the Ways and Means panel refused to approve a tax increase to pay for a bill extending benefits to millions of unemployed people.
Meanwhile, the hearing yesterday in the finance panel was designed to examine the projected impact of Sen. Bentsen's bill to restore the IRA deductions eliminated in the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and to create a new, "backloaded" IRA. Under a backloaded IRA, the interest earned on deposits into a retirement account would be tax-exempt if the principal was left untouched at least five years.
Municipal market participants have said they were concerned the backloaded IRA would not generate new savings but would instead draw individual investors away from tax-exempt bonds. The IRA would be more attractive than a tax-exempt bond because it would carry a higher rate of interest and have the added value of being exempt from taxes.
But several financial industry officials who testified yesterday said they believe expanding retirement accounts would generate new savings, not shift money from one account to another.
A survey sponsored by Merrill Lynch & Co. in 1989 found that, in general, "individuals who contributed to IRAs saved more in other forms, not less," said John L. Steffens, co-chairman of the Security Industry Association's Tax Policy Committee and executive vice president of Merrill Lynch.
"They neither shifted nor reduced other savings, nor borrowed to contribute to their IRAs," he said in prepared testimony.