Even during the difficult hours, as cranky legislators struggle to get out of town, they somehow find time to bestow a few Christmas presents.
Late Sunday night, three last-minute gifts were quietly inserted into a tax bill that ostensibly had been completed Thursday. The happy beneficiaries are accountants, mutual fund shareholders and the Treasury Department.
Provisions benefiting them had dropped in and out of the tax legislation several times during the last few months. The items were stripped most recently because they did not raise revenue and the tax bill is supposed to do nothing but that.
Undeterred, lobbyists continued their pleas for aid as lawmakers worked to reconcile the House and Senate versions. Accountants asked for repeal of a provision of the 1986 tax law requiring professional firms to use a calendar year for tax purposes rather than a fiscal year, on the grounds that the change would bunch all the accountants' work around April 15.
Mutual fund shareholders begged to escape a provision requiring up to 20 million investors to pay taxes on some of the funds' operating expenses even though they did not receive the money. And Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III called the chairmen of both tax-writing committees to request a higher volume limit on issues of long-term treasury bonds.
In a late-night meeting Sunday, Senate Finance Committee members asked their chairman, Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.), to try one more time to include the breaks. After conversations with Baker and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), the deed was done, fashioned in a way that did not cost federal revenue. The accountants got their fiscal years, the investors lost their taxes and the Treasury got its bonds.
The accountants, as might be expected, reacted not by popping champagne corks but by revising their clients' year-end tax strategies to incorporate the change.
"We're going to wait till the end of our fiscal year to celebrate," joked Gail
Maidenbaum of Reznick, Fedder & Silverman.