The fate of the employee-side payroll tax cut along with a host of tax extenders and other expired provisions could be decided in coming weeks. A conference committee of House and Senate members is negotiating a full-year extension of the payroll tax cut and could add some or all of the tax extenders to a final package. Lawmakers also could extend the payroll tax cut without acting on any tax incentives.

Payroll tax cut
The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 extended the employee-side OASDI tax cut through the end of February 2012. The employee-share of OASDI taxes is 4.2 percent for the two-month period, rather than 6.2 percent. The employer-share of OASDI taxes remains at 6.2 percent for the two month period. Self-employed individuals also benefit from a two percentage point reduction in OASDI taxes.

Unless extended, the employee-share of OASDI taxes is scheduled to revert to 6.2 percent after February 29, 2012. The White House and the leaders of the two parties in Congress agree that the payroll tax cut should be extended a full-year. They disagree, however, how to pay for the extension; even if it should be paid for at all.

Congress could extend the two-month payroll tax cut through the end of 2012 without paying for it. The 2011 payroll tax cut was unfunded. Congress appropriated to the Social Security trust funds amounts equal to the reduction in payroll tax revenues. The 2011 payroll tax cut was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office cost approximately $111 billion. Extending it through the end of 2012 is estimated to cost just as much if not more.

House Republicans reportedly have proposed a number of revenue raisers to offset the cost of extending the payroll tax cut through the end of 2012. One GOP proposal would extend the current pay freeze for employees of the federal government. Another GOP proposal would require higher-income individuals to pay increased Medicare premiums.

One possible revenue raiser, increasingly under discussion by Democrats, is a change in the taxation of so-called carried interest. Current law generally taxes carried interest as capital gains and not as ordinary income. Past efforts to change the tax treatment of carried interest have failed to pass Congress.

The so-called tax extenders, popular but temporary tax provisions, expired at the end of 2011. Many taxpayers are surprised to learn that their particular tax break, whether it be the state or local sales tax deduction, the teachers’ classroom expense deduction, or the research tax credit, are temporary. The extenders have been routinely revived many times in the past. This year, however, could be different. Faced with record federal budget deficits, lawmakers may decide to extend only some of the expired provisions.

President Obama’s FY 2013 proposals
President Obama is expected to release his fiscal year (FY) 2013 federal budget proposals in early February, which will reignite debate over the Bush-era tax cuts. President Obama is expected to urge Congress to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire after 2012 for higher-income taxpayers, which President Obama defines as individuals earning more than $200,000 or families earning more than $250,000. In recent weeks, there has been speculation that President Obama may revisit those definitions in his FY 2013 budget, possibly raising the amounts.

Few Capitol Hill observers expect Congress to take any action on the Bush-era tax cuts before the November elections. Instead, Congress may take up some of President Obama’s other proposals. As in past budgets, President Obama will likely propose to extend some energy tax breaks for individuals and businesses, extend tax incentives for education and provide some targeted-tax breaks to businesses. President Obama has also promised to introduce proposals to encourage U.S. companies to “insource” jobs at home.

On some issues, such as energy and education, lawmakers may find common ground but negotiations are likely to go down to the wire. Our office will keep you posted of developments.

If you have any questions about the payroll tax cut, tax extenders or the various tax proposals under discussion, please contact our office.