WASHINGTON -- A six-month reprieve is probably the most that the tax exemptions for mortgage revenue bonds and small-issue industrial development bonds will receive if Congress decides to extend them beyond Dec. 31, municipal lobbyists said last week.
Proponents of the dozen or so tax breaks have been pressing for at least a one-year extension, but that would cost the federal government $4.7 billion over five years. Finding revenue increases to cover that $4.7 billion has become a major stumbling block to extending the expiring provisions, lobbyists said.
That has left those lobbyists all but certain the expiring provisions will receive no more than a six-month extension, through June 30, 1992, or even as little as a three-month extension, to March 31, 1992.
"I don't think anyone thinks it's going to be a year anymore," one housing lobbyist said.
The length of the extension "will be purely a function of how much [lawmakers] can agree on in terms of revenue," said another lobbyist.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., told reporters Friday a decision on whether to take any action on the expiring provisions still had not been made.
"Stay tuned," Rep. Foley said, "I wouldn't write the story one way or another yet."
Congress appears to have only a few days left to decide what, if any, action to take on the expiring provisions. If lawmakers can clear away their last major piece of legislation -- a bill to shore up the bank insurance fund -- they are expected to adjourn for the year by Thanksgiving.
Rep. Foley told reporters he was confident adjournment would come Tuesday. He added that he is still holding discussions with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., on whether to extend the provisions.
Early last week, members of Congress and congressional aides were saying the last major hurdle to passing the extensions was the Bush administration, which has refused to say which revenue increases it would support to pay for the extensions.
As the week wore on, lobbyists said they were pulling out all the stops to get the administration to focus on the issue, but some were expressifng frustration that administration officials were not being responsive.
"I'm frankly discouraged by the administration's response to the many calls to them" from both the public and private sector on this issue, said John T. McEvoy, the executive director of the National Council of State Housing Agencies.
"The bottom line is Rostenknowski has to be assured the revenues are there" to pay for the extenders, and he is still waiting for the administration to say which revenue raisers it will support, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., said in an interview.
Rep. Rangel said a majority of his colleagues on the Ways and Means panel have signed a letter to be sent to Rep. Rostenkowski, in which they pledge to block any extraneous amendments that might be offered to legislation to extend the provisions.
The effort is similar to one started on the Senate side by Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., which garnered pledges from 77 senators not to weigh down a bill with amendments.