Major Bills Emerge From End-of-Year Negotiation

After weeks of negotiation, the text of a massive $1.15 trillion omnibus appropriations bill was released for public inspection in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.  That government funding legislation and a separate but simultaneously coordinated tax provision bill are likely to be among the final major considerations of Congress in 2015. 

The broader funding levels of the omnibus bill were hashed out in former Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) last week in office, so much of the debate in recent weeks revolved around what policy “riders” would be included in the funding legislation.  A number of flashpoints between Republicans and Democrats were left out of the final package, including a proposed restriction on funding of the FCC’s contested net neutrality order.  However, a provision circumventing an FCC order on joint sales agreements by grandfathering existing agreements through 2025 was included.  The bill also has a number of provisions steered towards governance of the IRS, including a requirement that “none of the funds made available under this Act may be used by the Internal Revenue Service to target citizens of the United States for exercising any right guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”  Another provision specifically forbids the agency from targeting groups based on their ideological beliefs.  In the area of life, new abortion non-discrimination language was dropped.  However, previous pro-life riders, including the Hyde Amendment that prevents federal funding of abortion, were retained.  Internationally, the debate over Syrian refugees was largely punted, but, among other notable provisions, a prohibition of funds going to the UN Human Rights Council was included unless the Secretary of State determines that the Council is in America’s national interest and that it discontinues an anti-Israel agenda. 

The tax policy bill also contains several of items of interest.  While some expiring tax incentives were given only a brief extension, a number were made permanent in the tax code.  For example, for the charitable sector, the legislation secures the long-term of ability individuals over 70½ years of age to make tax-free donations (up to $100,000 per year) from their Individual Retirement Accounts. It also makes permanent several deductions for property and food donations to charity.  In addition, again in the vein of seeking reform at the IRS, Congressional negotiators settled on a number of provisions in this bill aimed at the IRS’s treatment of 501 (c) organizations, including a statute that exempts donations to 501(c)(4), (c)(5), and (c)(6) from the gift tax.

The government is currently funded through December 22; however, action on these items could be completed as early as today.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: December 18, 2015

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