WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives is likely to vote this week on what is being called “Plan B” on avoiding the “fiscal cliff.”
The Republican-sponsored legislation aims to extend current low tax rates for most families. Without such action by Congress, across-the-board income tax rates will rise on January 1.
The combination of $500 billion in tax hikes and $100 billion in spending cuts, which are scheduled to start in the new year, could push the U.S. economy into recession, according to experts.
House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, and Democratic President Barack Obama have been trying for weeks to avoid the fiscal cliff with an alternative tax and spending-cut deal. Boehner says he is offering this very limited alternative in case negotiations with Obama fail.
Here are key elements of Boehner’s Plan B:
* A House vote is expected on Thursday.
* Boehner expressed confidence on Wednesday that the measure would pass but some House Republican aides were not yet predicting that.
* The White House has said Obama would veto the Boehner Plan B in the unlikely event it made it to his desk.
* Democrats are viewing Plan B as nothing more than a diversion from attempts to reach a broad deficit-reduction deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. They see it as a way for Boehner to give his conservatives a vote on a measure that they can tout as a tax-cut bill for all but the wealthiest and inoculate them against Democratic accusations of obstruction.
* Republicans argue that they are acting responsibly by providing a backstop against massive tax increases in case the Obama-Boehner negotiations fail.
* Once Plan B is dealt with, all attention will shift to whether Obama and Boehner can work out a broad agreement by December 31 or whether the country will go off the cliff. If that happens, there is speculation that some sort of deal might be worked out in the early weeks of January to avoid the full brunt of the tax hikes and spending cuts.
* Under Boehner’s Plan B, current low tax rates would be made permanent for families with net annual incomes of up to $1 million. The measure would let tax rates rise on income above $1 million. Without action by Congress, all income tax rates are set to rise on January 1 with the expiration of tax cuts enacted a decade ago by then-President George W. Bush.
* Plan B includes a grab bag of other expiring tax provisions. It would permanently fix the alternative minimum tax so that middle-class taxpayers do not creep into a tax bracket intended for the wealthiest. Annual AMT fixes have prevented tens of millions of households from paying a higher tax rate.
Also included are moves to maintain estate taxes at their current 35 percent rate per individual after a $5 million exemption. The White House backs reverting to the 2009 estate tax levels of 45 percent tax after a $3.5 million exemption per individual, though some moderate Democrats back keeping the current law.
Plan B legislation would raise dividend and capital gains tax rates for those earning $1 million and over to 20 percent, from its current 15 percent for most who pay such taxes. Most Democrats back raising the current 15 percent tax rate on investment income to 20 percent for households earning more than $250,000.
* The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the plan would reduce U.S. revenues by around $4 trillion over 10 years.
* The plan does not address spending issues, including automatic across-the-board spending cuts also looming at year’s end.
* The bill does not address how to resolve a looming stand-off over the government’s borrowing authority. The government will need to raise the “debt ceiling” in the next few months to avoid default, and Obama wants higher borrowing authority approved promptly. House Republicans continue to want to hold back and use it as leverage in ongoing fiscal cliff talks, according to aides.
* Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid already has warned there are not the votes in his chamber to pass Boehner’s plan. But if the House sent the Senate such a bill, Reid could respond in one of a few ways. He could declare that the Senate in July passed its version of this legislation, but with a $250,000 threshold, and take no further action. Or, he could offer a variation of the Senate-passed bill. Obama has proposed a $400,000 cut-off for maintaining low income tax rates. Reid could embrace that level or another one.
* The legislation is being inserted into an existing bill that originally had to do with Burma trade policy. A House Rules Committee spokesman said this was being done to avoid some potential procedural delays.
Reporting By Richard Cowan and Kim Dixon; Editing by Eric Beech