April 8, 2014

Congress took one big step toward renewing the wind energy tax credit last week, and congressional insiders say a big potential obstacle is likely to be cleared away in the next couple of months.

It was very good news for Iowa wind farmers and biodiesel producers when the Senate Finance Committee, at the urging of Sen. Chuck Grassley, last week approved a "tax extenders" bill that restored the wind and biodiesel credits. Both of those expired at the end of last year.

However, House Ways and Means Chairman David Camp, R-Mich., isn't a fan of tax extenders and he will have a significant influence on any tax provisions that move this year.

Camp held a hearing this week to discuss business tax breaks that he would make permanent under his plan for comprehensive tax reform; wind and biodiesel aren't on the list.

Camp's approach has the backing of conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation, which has singled out the wind and biodiesel credits for elimination.

Fortunately for many Iowa businesses, Camp's comprehensive tax bill will not be enacted into law this year.

The real issue is trying to persuade Camp to move an extenders bill, or, failing that, persuading the House GOP leadership to bring such a bill directly to the floor.

Iowa's House entire House delegation - GOP Reps. Steve King and Tom Latham, and Democratic Reps. David Loebsack and Bruce Braley - are urging their leaders to schedule a House vote on an extenders package.

That looks promising: A Republican leadership source told Potomac Watch that the wind and biodiesel credits will be renewed this year, one way or another.

"While I don't have specific guidance on the wind tax credit," the source said, "I expect Chairman Camp's team will announce a general way forward on extenders fairly soon."

Grassley, during last week's Senate Finance Committee meeting, acknowledged the problem with extenders bills in general but also made a plea to recognize the reality of the current situation.

"I am glad we are considering a two-year extension of expired tax provisions," Grassley said. "I am hopeful this will provide a small window of certainty to taxpayers while allowing us to continue our work towards tax reform."

Grassley continued: "I look forward to working with the Chairman and Ranking Member to enact tax reform and put an end to the headaches and uncertainty created by the regular expiration of tax provisions. Right now our focus should be on extending current expired or expiring provisions to give us room to work toward that goal."

He lamented "the annual stop and start nature of tax extenders," and said "the uncertainty it creates for the renewable industry has slowed growth in this sector."

Grassley noted that the new Senate Finance chairman, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), "has expressed his determination that this be the last extenders bill prior to comprehensive tax reform."

In the meantime, Grassley said, Congress shouldn't leave the renewable energy industry hanging in the wind.

It's a good bet that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is willing to bring an extenders package with the wind and biodiesel provisions to the Senate floor.

With the House Republican leadership signaling its support, things are looking up for Iowa's wind and biodiesel industries.


The House Republican Conference has been less of a fractious, quarreling family since Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, dropped his push for immigration reform.

This week's vote on the so-called Ryan budget is a case in point.

Conservative opposition in the House has faded, and it seems Republican leaders will get the "message vote" they want, helping their rank and file members show voters they have a plan to balance the budget over the next decade.

King parted ways with his leaders - and with fellow Republican Latham - on a vote late last year on the spending levels in the budget put together by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the former GOP vice presidential nominee.

This time around, King is hinting he may support the budget.

"I'd like to have it balanced in nine instead of 10, because that's what we said last year," King told Politico. "But it's a lot better than 26 years, and so I recognize Republicans need to pass a budget. You can't bring it to the floor and let it fail. We'd hand this agenda to the other side."

In general, GOP leaders have reduced tensions in the Conference by staying away from issues that divide their members. In recent weeks the House has passed yet another anti-Obamacare bill, GOP-favored budget reforms, a bill that would block the president from unilaterally declaring national monuments, and a bill reducing regulation on the coal mining industry.

Congress leaves at the end of the week for a two-week Easter recess. Expect to see similar "message votes" when lawmakers return in May.

But tax extenders are on the radar, at least, and could find a place in the schedule.