Bipartisan push on R&D tax break looks likely to flop, analysts say

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While companies are lobbying Congress to bring back immediate tax deductions for research-and-development costs, analysts are sounding downbeat on the prospects for that issue in any year-end tax package.

Starting this year, corporations have been required to write off domestic R&D expenses over five years rather than deduct them right away, with the shift due to a provision in Republicans’ 2017 tax overhaul.

In a letter this month to top lawmakers, nearly 180 chief financial officers from primarily big U.S. companies warned about a potential for job losses because of the new requirement to amortize R&D over time, as they called for a return to immediate deductibility.

One possibility is that Democratic lawmakers agree to reinstate immediate deductions if Republicans support a revival for the enhanced child tax credit (CTC), which ended about a year ago. The deal during the current lame-duck session also could include bringing back a bigger deduction for interest expenses and a tax break called “100% bonus depreciation,” which allows write-offs for certain short-lived assets.

But companies focused on the R&D issue are likely to be disappointed at year’s end, according to Tobin Marcus, senior U.S. policy and politics strategist at Evercore ISI.

“The reason that I am not optimistic about the likelihood of a deal is that I don’t think Republicans would agree to that characterization — that extending those corporate tax provisions is a partisan win for them,” said Marcus, who was an economic adviser to President Joe Biden when the veteran politician was vice president. “A pretty strong view from the Republican side is that there’s bipartisan support for all of those items.”

In other words, the GOP wouldn’t see an R&D win as a favor to them that should be repaid in kind to Democrats, the Evercore analyst reckons.

“I’m fairly skeptical that any of it is going to happen, but I think that the most likely way for something to happen is for Democrats to basically back down on the CTC thing and take a clean bipartisan extension of R&D, but I don’t really see much appetite to do that on the Democratic side, which is why I think the deal probably just falls apart,” he added.

Ben Koltun, director of research at Beacon Policy Advisors, also used the word “skeptical” in describing his view on the chances for a deal involving the R&D issue and CTC payouts.

“In a vacuum, these things could get done, but it’s less than a month until they’re done with the lame duck, and there’s so many other priorities,” Koltun said. “It’s going to be difficult to come up with this deal of the child tax credit, along with R&D expensing, interest deductibility and bonus expensing.”

Still, CTC advocates have been sounding hopeful, with one of them telling MarketWatch last month that a tax credit for business is “the engine,” and lawmakers “need to make sure the train doesn’t leave without working families on board.”

The price tag for reinstating immediate R&D deductions, bringing back the bigger deduction for interest expenses and extending 100% bonus depreciation would be about $95 billion for one year, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a watchdog group.

A full revival of the enhanced CTC from March 2021’s relief package would cost $145 billion in the first year, though lawmakers are more likely to do something smaller, CRFB said in a blog post on Tuesday.

“With inflation surging and debt approaching record levels, policymakers should avoid passing costly end-of-year policy changes,” the watchdog group added. 

Opinion: Any R&D tax break for multinationals in the lame-duck session should come with strings attached

‘Three-martini lunch’ deduction and a tax change for gig workers

The ability to deduct 100% of business meals is slated to go away when this year ends, with a 50% limit returning.

The Trump administration pushed for this beefed-up tax break in late 2020, saying it would help restaurants hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, while critics derided it as the “three-martini lunch” deduction.

Beacon’s Koltun predicted that it’s not likely to get saved during the lame-duck session.

“The environment isn’t there for for renewing that for business meals and entertainment,” he said.

But he’s upbeat on the prospects for changing a new requirement that gig-economy companies send 1099-K tax forms to workers who have earned more than $600 in a year, down from a prior threshold of $20,000.

Critics of the requirement, which took effect this year, have described it as burdensome or a “cash grab,” and it has been opposed by companies such as eBay

and PayPal

“This is something that has bipartisan support, and I still think it’s more likely than not to pass this year,” Koltun said, referring to setting the threshold somewhere above $600, such as at $5,000. But he added that any change would have a price tag and still needs to “reach the critical mass of support among leadership in the House and the Senate.”

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