Many in Congress are ready to put an end to that tradition – but even with broad bipartisan agreement, hurdles remain.
The House of Representatives has easily approved legislation that would make permanent several so-called tax extenders commonly used by small businesses, including a popular tax break allowing companies to write off investments in property and equipment. The breaks were among more than 50 temporary tax credits and deductions that expired at the end of 2014.
“Small businesses need more certainty to grow, and this bill will help them plan for the future,” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement following the bill’s passage. “We still have a long way to go, but I see this as a down payment on a simpler, flatter, fairer tax code.”
Under what’s commonly called the Section 179 deduction, small business owners last year could deduct the cost of investments in, say, new machinery or software of up to $500,000 at the time of purchase, rather than over several years. However, in the absence of a renewal from Congress, the limit for the deduction this year dropped all the way to $25,000.
Small business lobbying groups have pushed hard for a long-term extension of the larger Section 179 deduction, arguing that encouraging small business owners to expand their businesses with new property and equipment leads to more hiring.
“This gives business owners the ability to maximize investment in their companies, fueling expansion and driving growth and job creation,” said John Arensmeyer, president of Small Business Majority, one lobbying organization. “And making the higher small business expensing limits permanent will reduce uncertainty and the incidence of tax policy driving business decisions.”
Small business owners are making their voices heard, too. In a letter published last week by the Columbus Dispatch, Rod Essig, who owns a small plumbing and air conditioning parts supplier in Columbus, Ohio, urged the Senate to pass the bill, writing that it would “allow businesses like ours to better invest in new equipment, trucks and even computer software.”
In addition to returning Section 179 to the half-million-dollar limit, the proposal approved by the House, dubbed the Small Business Tax Relief Act, would indefinitely restore several preferable tax rules for S corporations, including provisions that can help limit the tax burden on investment gains and charitable contributions by shareholders.
After passing through the House on a 272-142 vote (including approval from 33 Democrats), the measure faces an uphill battle moving forward. Despite bipartisan support, the proposal’s future mostly comes down to a question of how to make them permanent and whether to offset the costs.
For the most part, Democrats have argued against passing permanent extensions of breaks like these without offsetting the costs to the government with some other stream of revenue. Others have refused to consider tackling tax reform with a piecemeal approach, holding out instead for a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code.
President Obama stands among them. Despite calling on Congress to raise the Section 179 limit even higher – to cover investments of up to $1 million – the White House has threatened to veto the Small Business Tax Relief Act, along with a similar bill extending tax breaks on charitable giving, should either or both make their way through the Senate.
“The Administration supports making permanent expanded expensing for small businesses and offsetting the cost by closing tax loopholes as part of business tax reform that is revenue neutral over the long run,” the Office of Management and Budget officials wrote in a notice of White House policy. They cited estimates that the extensions without offsets would add $79 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade.
They also took issue with renewing and making permanent only those breaks that benefit businesses.
“House Republicans are making clear their priorities by rushing to make business tax cuts permanent without offsets when key tax credit improvements benefiting 16 million working families with children are scheduled to expire,” OMB added.