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Tax Writers Set to Begin Reform Proposals

Tax writers in Congress are set to begin debating and writing tax reform legislation. The White House and GOP leaders in Congress had released a framework for tax reform. The framework sets out broad principles for tax reform, leaving the details to the two tax-writing committees: the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. How quickly lawmakers will write and pass tax legislation is unclear. What is clear is that tax reform is definitely one of the top issues on Congress’ fall agenda.

The GOP framework proposes consolidating the current seven individual tax rates into three: 12, 25 and 35%. However, the framework leaves open the possibility of an additional top rate “to the highest-income taxpayers to ensure that the reformed tax code is at least as progressive as the existing tax code and does not shift the tax burden from high-income to lower- and middle-income taxpayers.”

For individuals, the GOP framework also proposes to:

  • Eliminate the alternative minimum tax
  • Roughly double the standard deduction
  • Repeal the federal estate tax
  • Preserve the home mortgage interest deduction and the deduction for charitable contributions
  • Eliminate most other itemized deductions
  • Repeal the personal exemption for dependents
  • Retain tax benefits that encourage work, higher education, and retirement security

Family incentives
Family incentives have traditionally garnered bipartisan support in Congress and the GOP framework includes several. The child tax credit, for example, currently phases out when incomes reach certain levels. The GOP framework calls for increasing the income levels for the credit to unspecified amounts. Another proposal would create a new non-refundable $500 credit for non-child dependents. The details would be left to the tax-writing committees.

One pillar of the GOP framework is a corporate tax rate cut. The framework calls for a 20% corporate tax rate, down from the current 35% rate. Businesses that operate as passthroughs, such as S corporations, would have a maximum tax rate of 25% subject to unspecified limitations to prevent abuses.

Other business proposals include:

  • Enhanced expensing
  • Limiting the deduction for net interest expenses by C corporations
  • Eliminating the Code Sec. 199 deduction
  • Preserving the research and development credit and tax preferences for low-income housing
  • Reforming certain international taxation rules

Drafting legislation
After the GOP framework was released, the chairs of the tax-writing committees said their committees would begin drafting legislation. The Ways and Means Committee is made up of 24 Republicans and 16 Democrats. Republicans also have a majority on the Senate Finance Committee but only by two votes (14 to 12). This narrow vote margin is likely to influence any tax bill out of the Senate Finance Committee.

A number of popular but temporary tax incentives have expired. Unless extended, these “extenders” will not be available to taxpayers when they file their 2017 returns in 2018. They include:

  • Tax exclusion for canceled mortgage debt
  • Mortgage insurance premium deductibility
  • Higher education tuition deduction
  • Special expensing rules for film, television, and theatrical productions
  • Seven-year recovery period for motorsports entertainment complexes

Other tax bills
Several tax-related bills may be taken up by either the House or Senate, including:

  • RESPECT Act, passed by the House and waiting for a vote in the Senate, would limit the IRS’s ability to seize assets related to structured transactions.
  • Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 IRS budget bill, passed by the House and waiting for a vote in Senate, which would fund the IRS for FY 2018.

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