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Tax Fight Lined Up for Key House Committee: Congress Update

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(Bloomberg) -- The House Ways and Means Committee on Friday advanced measures including an expansion in Medicare coverage and help for workers hurt by international trade as the key panel, along with others, continue to flesh out major components of a $3.5 trillion tax-and-spending bill.

The moves are part of a broader push to detail the text for a giant piece of legislation that will carry the bulk of President Joe Biden’s longer-term economic agenda. Senate lawmakers are at the same time looking at proposals including an excise tax on stock buybacks and an overhaul of taxes on business partnerships.

Details on proposed tax increases to help pay for a ramping up in social spending are expected in coming days. Meantime, committees are hammering out agreements within the Democratic caucus on a raft of other items. Party leaders must sort through competing demands among progressive and moderate lawmakers in the effort to unite the caucus in face of universal Republican opposition to the bill.

Key Stories and Developments:

House panels start advancing key elements of expanded social safety netDemocratic lawmakers struggle for a deal addressing the SALT capDivisions remain over the scope of the overall plan, known as a budget reconciliation bill

All times are U.S. Eastern Time:

Tax Fight Lined Up for Key House Committee (4:19 p.m.)

The Ways and Means Committee ended voting for the week after approving a series of smaller health care provisions. It plans to reconvene on Tuesday to begin work on the revenue and drug price sections of the Biden agenda. 

The committee approved $425 million for the Health Profession Opportunity Grant program, intended to help more people go into health fields. The grants can be used for education, child care, transportation and other costs. 

The panel also approved funds to increase salaries for elder care workers and to root out elder abuse through increased investigations, and to improve oversight of nursing homes. -- Erik Wasson

Immigration Readied for Senate Budget Battle (3:14 p.m.)

Senate aides from both parties met with the chamber’s parliamentarian on Friday, as Democrats try to push through the so-called budget reconciliation process an immigration plan that would allow 8 million undocumented immigrants to receive lawful permanent resident status.

To make the cut for the filibuster-proof reconciliation process, Democrats must persuade the parliamentarian their proposal has a significant budgetary impact and does not run afoul of Senate rules. The immigrants -- including so-called Dreamers -- would qualify for nearly $140 billion dollars in federal benefits once they attained legal status, Democratic aides argued as part of their case.

Republicans didn’t respond to requests for comment about their strategy. If the parliamentarian doesn’t side with Democrats, it would be a big setback for Democratic leaders who want to clear the immigration legislation sometime this month. -- Laura Litvan

Medicare Expansion Advances in House (2:43 p.m.)

The House Ways and Means Committee approved on a 24 to 19 vote the largest expansion of Medicare since the addition of drug benefits two decade ago. 

The bill would provide seniors with vision benefits in 2022, hearing benefits in 2023 and some dental benefits by 2028. Progressives are pushing for an earlier start to the dental benefits and that the government increase its share of the cost, which ramps up to 50% by 2032. 

Democrats have delayed the start of the program in part because of its cost and an agreement to limit the overall spending in the Biden budget bill to $3.5 trillion. There is some talk on Capitol Hill of offering seniors limited vouchers to use toward dental benefits before 2028 as a compromise. 

Republicans argued that Medicare should not be expanded when its hospital fund is already slated to be insolvent in 2026. -- Erik Wasson

Democrats Boost Trade Adjustment Assistance (12:43 p.m.)

The House Ways and Means Committee approved a large increase in annual funding for Trade Adjustment Assistance on a 24-to-19 vote.

The $22 billion in TAA funding will ease eligibility for the program for individuals and firms. Republicans decried the proposal and called on the Biden administration to expand U.S. exports by conducting new free trade negotiations.

The committee is now turning to measures aimed at expanding Medicare benefits. -- Erik Wasson

Wyden Eyes Partnership Tax Overhaul for Revenue (11:45 a.m.)

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden -- a key player in the tax and social spending agenda Democrats hope to advance this month -- has introduced a bill to tighten tax reporting requirements around business partnerships.

Partnership “rules are too complex for working people who don’t have armies of lawyers and accountants,” Wyden said in a release touting the new legislation, which he is likely to include in the broader multitrillion-dollar bill. 

Wyden’s bill would require revaluations of partnerships according to significant gains and losses, limit the way contributions and distributions of property exchanges can be reported to the IRS, and limit the options partnerships currently have for when to pay taxes to simplify administration and collection. -- Colin Wilhelm

House Lawmakers Battle over Trade Assistance Program (10:23 a.m.)

The House Ways and Means Committee began work Friday on $22 billion in funding for the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which aims to help workers retrain for new jobs and firms to reorient their businesses if they have been displaced by new free trade agreements.

“The Covid-19 pandemic’s disruption of trade and critical U.S. supply chains played a role in the economy’s downturn last year and the hardship workers endured,” Richard Neal, the Massachusetts representative who chairs the panel, said in a statement. “Based on lessons of the past 18 months, as well as shortcomings identified well before the coronavirus struck, we are proposing significant increased investments in TAA programs.” 

Republicans have countered that a doubling in annual funding is unnecessary and that TAA money is wastefully administered.

Republican Representative Vern Buchanan of Florida said changes to the program make it duplicative of unemployment insurance and that it “relaxes the eligibility requirements to such a degree that the connection to trade is not longer apparent.” -- Erik Wasson

House Ways and Means Panel Plans Votes on Medicare, Other Items (10:07 a.m.)

The House Ways and Means Committee plans votes Friday on a plan to grant Medicare vision, hearing and dental benefits. It also plans votes on expanded Trade Adjustment Assistance for workers displaced by trade agreements, funding boosts for skilled nursing facilities for helping individuals enter health-care careers.

Money for the investigation and rooting out of abuse against the elderly is also up for consideration. -- Erik Wasson

Senate Democrats Float 2% Stock-Buyback Tax to Spur Investment (8:30 a.m.)

Two senior Democratic senators proposed a 2% tax on corporate stock buybacks in an effort to boost investment and reduce what they termed as tax avoidance.

The plan, released by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown of Ohio, wouldn’t apply to transactions for funding an employee pension plan or those below a “de minimis threshold.”

“Special rules address the treatment of foreign corporations,” though so-called inverted companies -- a term used to describe American firms that shift their headquarters abroad -- “are fully subject to the excise tax” according to a statement released by Brown’s office.

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