WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is apparently the last major stumbling block to passing legislation to extend two popular bond programs and other expiring tax provisions this year, members of Congress and congressional aides said yesterday.
"We're waiting for some sign from the administration," Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., said during a press briefing. "They really are asleep on this issue."
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, "there is a lot of pressure developing" to pass extensions of the tax breaks, Re. Beryl Anthony, D-Ark., said in an interview. Among the expiring provisions are the exemptions for mortgage revenue bonds and small-issue industrial development bonds, as well as the low-income housing tax credit, which are slated to end Dec. 31.
The White House supports some of the expiring provisions, including the research and development tax credit and the housing credit. But it has not offered any suggestions of how to pay for the extensions, which would lose revenue for the federal government.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., has said repeatedly that he wants the administration to take the lead on finding a way to pay for the extensions so the Democrats would not find themselves accused by the administration of trying to raise taxes.
Over the past week, members of Congress have tried to bring administration officials to the point where they would back some of the revenues raisers, but "they're not there yet," a congressional aide said. Discussions from the White House have only elicited a pledge not to oppose an "extender" bill, but the aide said the administration would have to be out in front with its support for the legislation to move forward.
Sen. Danforth has said he has identified more than a dozen tax code changes that could raise money to pay for the expiring provisions but is still waiting to hear from the administration as to which items it would support.
"I'll do anything the administrations wants" to get White House officials to sign off on some of those revenue raisers, Sen. Danforth said. "If they want me to get them dressed in the morning, I'll do that," he joked.
Rep. Anthony also said the revenue raising items are a sticking point, and that Rep. Rostenkowski recently has urged the Bush administration to say which ones it will accept. Meanwhile, in the Congress, "there is a lot of interest, a lot of talk going on" about the expiring provisions, he said.
With less than a week left before Congress is expected to adjourn for the year, neither the House nor the Senate has begun drafting a bill on expiring provisions, and congressional leaders continue to refuse to say when or how such a bill will be passed. None of those leaders, however, have ruled out the possibility the tax breaks will be continued.
"I hope very much to extend" the expiring provisions," Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. D-Maine, said during a press briefing. "We're doing our best to organize an effort to get it done."
Because the Constitution requires revenue bills to originate in the House, the Senate's hands are tied until it receives legislation from that chamber. When asked what he was doing to get a bill out of the House, Sen. Mitchell said he has met this week with Rep. Rostenkowski, House Speaker Thomas Foley, D-Wash., House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and House Minority Leader Robert Michel, R-Ill., in an attempt to move the process forward.