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Business Groups Lukewarm on New Jobs Bill

For months, the Information Technology Industry Council, a trade group that represents high-tech companies, has lobbied lawmakers to approve the extension of expired tax credits for areas such as research and development.

But now that Congress is moving to consider an economic package with those tax extenders, many business groups, including the technology council, aren’t rejoicing.

The reason is that the Democratic leadership, under pressure to offset costs, has tacked on revenue-raising tax changes that business leaders complain could cut their bottom lines.

“Some of the easiest pay-fors have been used up,” said Ralph Hellmann, senior vice president of government relations for the technology council. “Now you are hitting the bone. You are making changes that hurt companies’ competitiveness.”

This week, Hellmann’s group joined other prominent business organizations, including the National Foreign Trade Council and the Business Roundtable, in sending a letter to lawmakers opposing a crackdown on the use of foreign tax credits.

Their action was part of a round of furious lobbying on Capitol Hill this week over the jobs legislation that Congressional leaders say they want to complete before they leave for their Memorial Day break.

The bill, which was unveiled last week by House Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), is a mishmash of tax and spending measures. It includes extending unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies, prevents Medicare reimbursement cuts for physicians and provides funding for a range of programs, including infrastructure bonds and summer jobs for young people.

The legislation also would raise the excise tax on oil production from 8 cents a barrel to 32 cents to fund the oil spill liability trust fund, which is expected to be depleted because of the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil industry leaders said they were analyzing the increase, which they anticipated because of the spill.

House Democratic leaders spent Tuesday trying to corral their Members into supporting the $200 billion measure, which has drawn resistance from some fiscally conservative lawmakers in the Caucus. It is also unclear whether the Senate can muster the 60 votes necessary to approve the bill.

Meanwhile, outside groups have been trying to influence the final outcome, with much of the focus on the Senate, which is more likely to consider amendments to the legislation.

Among business groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has taken the toughest stance against the measure, threatening to include votes on the bill in its evaluation of lawmakers’ records.

In a letter to House Members, chamber Vice President Bruce Josten said his group supported a number of elements in the bill, including extending the expired tax breaks, the Build America Bonds and pension relief.

But he said the benefits were outweighed by onerous tax provisions, including limiting corporations’ ability to use foreign tax credits and requiring that “carried interest” earned by venture capitalists and other investors be taxed at a higher rate.

“Many of these provisions would make significant changes to long-standing aspects of U.S. tax law and policy and have never been considered in hearings or other bills,” Josten said. He wrapped up the letter with a warning that the chamber may consider votes on the legislation in the chamber’s annual “How They Voted” scorecard.

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