On the House floor last night, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) described Bowles's Republican opponent, Rep. Richard Burr (N.C.), as one of the chief architects of the tobacco buyout provisions.
Taking the floor, Burr then called it "a special night" for tobacco farmers and said: "This piece of legislation will probably enable 10,000 individuals in North Carolina alone" to avoid having "to file for bankruptcy this year."
Other parts of the bill were clearly crafted with an eye to the coming election. Republicans, for example, would like to take credit for helping middle-class voters in seven states that do not have a state income tax. The bill would restore a provision of the tax code that allows the deduction of state sales taxes in lieu of deducting state income taxes.
Meanwhile, Democrats charged that the bill is far too generous to big companies. "It's Christmas in October for multinational companies and lobbyists with friends in high places," said Charles B. Rangel (N.Y.), ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said the bill "only serves to complicate and carve up the tax code. . . . It continues [on] the path of extraordinary fiscal irresponsibility."
From modest beginnings, the tax bill grew steadily.
The original impetus was a World Trade Organization ruling nearly two years ago that declared $5 billion in annual U.S. export subsidies to U.S. manufacturers to be illegal.
That ruling prompted the European Union to impose retaliatory tariffs on 1,600 U.S. manufactured products and farm goods. The tariffs, now at 12 percent, rise each month the illegal export subsidies continue.
The bill would phase out the export subsidies deemed illegal by the WTO. But it is still unclear whether this would take place fast enough to satisfy the Europeans and result in the lifting of the tariffs.