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Outlook for lame duck tax laws

By Kay Bell · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Posted: 1 pm ET

Brace yourselves, America. Congress is going back to work next week.

I kid, sort of. It's not necessarily a bad thing that the House and Senate will convene for a lame duck session on Nov. 15. And there's a chance representatives and senators will actually accomplish some things.

But just how much work they do, compared to what they've left undone, is the big issue.

Right now, all taxpayer eyes are on the expiring Bush tax cuts. That's priority one, since unless the tax laws change, on Jan. 1, 2011, everyone's taxes will go up at least a bit.

That New Year deadline also applies to the estate tax. It's no secret that this levy will come roaring back to life in 2011.

But some other taxes need attention from Congress, too.

Extenders
For the last 10-plus months we've been without some popular tax breaks. Maybe you or someone you know has, in the past, claimed the itemized deduction for state and local sales taxes, the additional standard deduction for state and local real property taxes and above-the-line deductions for qualified tuition and related college costs and educators' out-of-pocket expenditures.

Those, and more, tax-saving options expired on Dec. 31, 2009. That's not unusual. These tax breaks technically are short-term and typically are extended each year by Congress, leading to their popular name of "extenders."

Back in May, the House approved a bill keeping the extenders in the tax code through 2010. The Senate never took final action.

Alternative minimum tax
Then there's the alternative minimum tax, or AMT. This is the nasty parallel tax that hits millions more taxpayers each year because it is not indexed for inflation. In addition, some tax breaks that are allowed when figuring regular, ordinary taxes are not allowed under the AMT.

For the last several years, Congress has passed an AMT patch that increases the amount of income exempt from the AMT and protects taxpayers who otherwise would have to pay the IRS more. We're still waiting on the patch for the 2010 tax year. Yeah, this tax year that's almost over.

Stimulus tax breaks
Most of the undone tax work centers around laws that are long-standing or part of previous administrations.

But we can't forget some new, and expiring, tax breaks that the Obama White House pushed through as part of its stimulus package.

The Making Work Pay tax credit, which provides workers up to $400 in tax savings (or $800 for married couples) is in its last year. So is the American Opportunity tax credit, which provides up to $2,500 in tax savings for students.

These end this coming Dec. 31. The president is pushing for their continuation and many lawmakers support these tax breaks.

But will Congress get to them in the lame duck session?

Right now, it looks like the expiring Bush tax cuts are atop the legislative agenda.

However, I suspect that many other tax break continuations will likely wait until the new 112th Congress convenes in January 2011. Then Congress can fight about them and, if they come to an agreement, make the tax breaks retroactively effective.

What a way to do -- or not do -- the people's business.

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1 Comment
Shantique
November 10, 2010 at 11:44 am

Boy, I wish I had a job as nice as the Senators and Congresspeople! I would love to be able to leave my job, with my work uncompleted, go away for a few months and then saunter in at the very last moment to decide on something that will affect millions of peoples lives!

I REALLY hope they do the right thing here. Not extending those cuts, will cause a downward spiral that most will be unable to get out of for quite some time. Haven't we been through enough?