WASHINGTON -- Tax lawmakers in both houses quickly approved legislation yesterday to extend two popular bond programs and other expiring tax provisions through June 30, 1992.
The proposed extensions, which include the use of mortgage revenue bonds and small-issue industrial development bonds, were approved by voice votes in separate, but simultaneous, sessions late yesterday afternoon by the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees.
After giving no indication all year of whether they would bring the extensions to a vote in their committees, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., and Finance Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen, D-Tex., yesterday offered a plan to extend the tax breaks for six months beyond their Dec. 31, 1991, expiration date. They then rushed it to a vote in their panels.
The plan calls for paying for the cost of the extensions, which is estimated at $3 billion over five years, by speeding up collection of projected taxes by corporations.
It was unclear when the House and Senate would vote on the proposal, but action must be completed soon because Congress is trying to adjourn for the year before Thanksgiving.
Despite the last-ditch effort by the tax panel chairmen to renew the expiring provisions just before Congress is set to quit for the year, the outcome is far from certain.
The proposal could be derailed if anyone in Congress succeeds in adding any amendments to the measure that might turn it into a so-called Christmas tree.
Although no extraneous amendments were added in either panel, Rep. Rostenkowski warned that amendments "at any stage will jeopardize passage of this emergency legislation."
President Bush has not indicated whether he will sign the measure, but a Treasury official said during the Senate Finance Committee meeting that the administration does not oppose any of the extensions or the proposal to pay for them.
Rep. Rostenkowski also said he expects his committee next year to decide which of the tax provisions should be made permanent and which should be allowed to die.
"I intend this to be the last temporary extension of expiring tax proviions," he said. "The committee will examine each one and will vote on permanent extensions for each one, up or down, on the merits of each one," he said.
His comments came as several members of the Senate Finance committee also called for some of the expiring provisions to be made permanent.
"I would hope we can find a permanent way of resolving this matter," said Sen. William V. Roth Jr., R-Del.
The votes by the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees came after a week of frantic maneuvering by congressional proponents of the expiring provisions, which include the tax exemptions for mortgage revenue bonds, small-issue industrial development bonds, and the low-income housing tax credit.
Late last week, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., a member of the Ways and Means Committee, sent a letter to his colleagues on the panel urging them to support a nine-month extension of the expiring provisions. Another committee member, Rep. Frank Guarini, D-N.J., continued to press for a one-year extension.
For months, tax leaders have declined to bring the expiring provisions to a vote in their committees, partly because extending them would lose money for the federal government, and a way to offset that revenue loss had not been found.
Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., had been insisting the White House would have to say what extensions it supported and what revenue raisers it would propose to pay for the extensions before he would consider such a bill. In a letter last week, Rep. Rostenkowki urged Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady to state the Bush administration's position as quickly as possible.
Mr. Brady responded with a letter stating the administration strongly supported five of the 12 expiring provisions. The five extensions favored by the White House include the housing credit, but not the bond exemptions.
Mr. Brady suggested the extensions be paid for by bringing state and local employees under the Medicare system -- a proposal that Rep. Rostenkowski has consistently opposed.