The Senate yesterday approved unanimously and sent to the White House legislation to give U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf extra time to file their income tax returns and to provide a 5.4 percent cost-of-living increase in benefits for disabled veterans.
The bills, approved earlier by the House, are the first legislation passed by the 102nd Congress and are expected to be signed by President Bush.
In a series of 99 to 0 votes, the Senate also approved non-binding resolutions condemning Iraqi treatment of U.S. prisoners of war and commending Israel for restraint in response to missile attacks by Iraq.
The tax deadline measure goes beyond action taken by Bush last week to provide tax breaks and deadline extensions for U.S. military personnel in the gulf combat zone, as of the outbreak of war on Jan. 17. It would allow tax deferrals beginning Aug 2, the day of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and permit deferral for those hospitalized within the United States as well as abroad. The bill also requires the Internal Revenue Service to pay interest on refunds issued more than 45 days after April 15 for everyone covered by the legislation.
"With our troops in the Persian Gulf facing significant hardship and great danger, the least we in Congress can do is recognize this extraordinary disruption and make sure they are relieved of the burden of worrying about their taxes," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.).
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said Congress will consider additional help for families of Operation Desert Storm personnel, including new protections from housing eviction and broader health care options, education loan relief, family support services and job protections for reservists.
The inflation adjustment for disabled veterans gives them the same increase that other recipients of individual benefits received last year. The increase was held up last year in a dispute over legislation dealing with Agent Orange.