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Monday, December 4, 2023

More meaningless votes in the House

Another day, another fight at the Capitol
Another day, another fight at the Capitol

In case you missed them the first time, House Republicans have passed an election-year package of tax cuts, regulation reductions and, once again, a tweak to President Barack Obama’s health law. As before, they stand no chance of becoming law.

Republicans also pushed through a separate measure that ties together a host of familiar energy-related items, including approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, increased exports of liquefied natural gas and rolling back rules intended to combat climate change. They too are destined for nowhere.

The tax measure was approved 253-163, and the energy measure was adopted 226-191.

The bills adopted Thursday are unlikely to be taken up in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and both face veto threats from the White House. They had already been passed by the House as separate legislation but stalled in the Senate.

With Congress rushing to go home so members can campaign for re-election, GOP leaders decided to repackage the bills into larger bundles that highlight differences between Democrats and Republicans heading into the Nov. 4 election. Such “message” bills also set the stage for post-election debates on energy and dozens of expired tax breaks affecting millions of individuals and businesses.

Democrats denounced the bills as little more than political re-runs, but Republicans said they would create jobs and boost the economy.

“With better jobs, higher take-home pay and a stronger economy, we can offer a brighter future for our youth and ease the everyday burdens felt by individuals nationwide,” said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and chief sponsor of the tax package.

But Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., compared the bill to an unappetizing meal that was served the day before.

“It was bad yesterday, and today we’re eating leftovers,” Johnson said.

The tax bill would add $572 billion to the budget deficit over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’ official scorekeeper for tax bills.

The package would make permanent several temporary business tax breaks that expired at the beginning of the year, including a credit for investing in research and development and several provisions that enable companies to more quickly write off the costs of computers, machinery and other equipment.

One provision would change the definition of a full-time worker under Obama’s health law. Starting next year, large employers must provide health insurance to employees who work an average of 30 or more hours a week, or pay a penalty. The bill would increase the work threshold to 40 hours a week, exempting those who work less from the employer mandate.

The bill would also scale back regulations for securities brokers and some investment managers.

The energy bill would boost production of oil and natural gas and speed approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from western Canada to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

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