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Tax break negotiations in ‘preliminary’ stage

Negotiations over extending a slew of expired tax breaks could take until the end of the current lame-duck session of Congress, top tax writers said Thursday.

Top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees are trying to hash out a deal on the so-called “tax extenders,” the dozens of temporary provisions that expired at the end of 2013.

But both Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the panel, said the discussions have a long way to go.

John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, has urged Congress to pass an extenders package before the end of the month, to ensure that the tax filing season can begin on time next year and refunds aren’t delayed.

But Democrats and Republicans are still working through several disagreements, including whether to restore of the temporary provisions indefinitely and whether to scrap some for good.

“We’re just at a preliminary stage right now, so I don’t want to rule anything in or out,” Camp told reporters on Thursday. “I look forward to engaging with Senate.”

In the recent past, tax extenders packages have been tacked on to broader tax deals struck later in lame-duck sessions – including almost two years ago, when an extension of the tax breaks was tacked on to the “fiscal-cliff” deal.

House Republicans are seeking to revive certain tax breaks that help business, like a popular credit for research and a couple of incentives for business expensing, without an expiration date.

Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) added Thursday that the “general consensus” among Republicans was to phase out or eliminate a tax credit for wind energy that is strongly supported by Democrats and some senior GOP lawmakers, like Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa).

Conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action are also urging the GOP to kill the tax break for wind, known as the production tax credit.

Like Camp, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wouldn’t rule out any possibilities for an extenders package when speaking to reporters this week, including potentially extending some provisions indefinitely.

Wyden crafted a measure with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), likely next chairman of the Finance Committee, to extend most of the expired provisions through 2015. Hatch said this week that he was also open to making some tax breaks permanent, but he also sounded loyal to his committee’s bipartisan package.

“That was a hard-fought package. It went through smoothly,” Hatch told reporters on Wednesday when asked about stripping the wind tax credit. “And I don’t think we’re going to want to take a lot of changes.”

On Thursday, Levin blasted the GOP efforts for more long-term extensions, calling them fiscally irresponsible. The House plan to expand and extend the research credit, for instance, would cost roughly $155 billion over a decade. The Senate’s two-year package costs $85 billion in all.

Still, Levin also acknowledged that the differences between the two parties could push negotiations until the end of the post-election session. The current measure funding the government expires on Dec. 11, and lawmakers aren’t interested in extending the lame-duck session longer than they have to.

“The likelihood is that the final decision will be in December,” Levin said. “It would be better if we could do it quickly. But we’re not at that point yet.”

Camp agreed, noting that some Republicans are seeking only a one-year extension of the tax breaks, meaning the provisions would expire once again at the end of 2014.

The Michigan Republican, who’s retiring at the end of the year, said that would be a bad idea, arguing that he’s instead seeking to make some of the provisions permanent, which would be a better approach.

“That’s always a possibility,” Camp said, when asked if negotiations could seep into 2015. “I think that’s a mistake.”

“They’d like to see us get something done that didn’t disrupt their lives,” Camp added about voters who have made it clear they’re unhappy with Washington and the state of the economy.