Congress

Grassley: ‘Cadillac’ tax repeal points way to extenders deal

PAYGO rules may no longer be a hindrance, Iowa Republican hints

Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley sees a way forward on a tax extenders deal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley sees a “little bit of progress” on the tax extenders front in House Democrats’ decision to push repeal of the “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health insurance plans, without offsets for the lost revenue.

The House’s pay-as-you-go rules have been a hindrance for much of the year on moving legislation to extend tax breaks that expired at the end of 2017 and 2018. The most expensive of those is a provision originally authored by Grassley in 2004 to provide a $1 per gallon biodiesel blenders tax credit, which costs about $3 billion a year.

But with the Cadillac tax repeal scheduled to come up for a House vote under suspension of the rules Wednesday — the measure has 367 co-sponsors — the dynamics may have changed, Grassley said.

“They’re talking about passing without PAYGO the elimination of the Cadillac tax, so that kind of sets a pattern that maybe we don’t need to pay for other extenders,” the Iowa Republican said Tuesday.

A $33 billion, three-year extenders package advanced out of the House Ways and Means Committee last month, though it has yet to go to the floor. That package would be hard for Republicans to swallow since it is paid for by ending the 2017 tax code overhaul’s doubling of the estate tax exemption three years early.

Since revenue bills must originate in the House, however, Grassley must wait for House action. But House passage of a tax bill — any tax bill — would potentially give him a vehicle to bring extenders legislation up for a vote on the Senate floor.

In March, Grassley and Finance ranking member Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced a bill to renew the extenders that lapsed at the start of 2018 and 2019 through Dec. 31, 2019. The House bill would tack on an extra year, and also deal with provisions expiring at the end of this year.

“There’s no further negotiations going on with the House,” Grassley said. “Because quite frankly, you can’t negotiate there, they’d be negotiating against themselves” since the next move is up to the House.

Collection of the 2010 health care law’s excise tax on high-premium insurance plans has been repeatedly delayed. In May, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that, if allowed to go forward, the excise tax would raise $193 billion over the next decade when all the indirect effects of the legislation, such as workers moving to lower-cost plans and receiving more taxable compensation in the form of salaries and wages, are factored in. The CBO estimated the direct revenue loss would be $96 billion over 10 years.

When Democrats are criticized for moving legislation without a spending or revenue offset, they invariably bring up the projected $1.5 trillion, 10-year hit to deficits from the 2017 tax overhaul. That shortfall would have been an estimated $297 billion higher if the legislation hadn’t included eliminating the 2010 health care law’s individual mandate penalty for failure to purchase coverage.

Elimination of the mandate penalty took effect at the beginning of this year. The decision to remove the penalty, the CBO says, will result in fewer people obtaining health insurance and higher premiums for those who do choose to enroll in coverage.

Rep. Joe Courtney, author of the Cadillac tax repeal bill, said his measure is “really about stabilizing health insurance,” that it is supported by a broad coalition and would cost just $6 billion in lost revenues over its first three years.

“I think people should be very careful about disturbing it,” the Connecticut Democrat said.

That said, Courtney added that he understands how widely supported legislation like his can “sometimes morph into other vehicles.”

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