Trifecta Bill May Resurface in Senate This Month

The fate of the "trifecta" bill and middle-class tax cuts remains uncertain, as GOP leaders send mixed signals about their intentions and the GOP ranks appear restless. In late July, the House passed a so-called "trifecta" package (H.R. 5970) that would roll back estate taxes, increase the minimum wage, and extend several business and other tax credits. Solely because of the inclusion of the estate tax cut, the package failed in the Senate, falling three votes short of the 60 necessary to end debate. Unfortunately, the GOP leadership has refused to design a strategic alternative to the trifecta bill. Many members of the business community have been vocal in calling for action on the highly-popular tax credit extensions ("extenders") - even recently publicly questioning the Republican strategy to attach those provisions to the estate tax. By any measure, this is "must-pass" legislation and will cause corporate and small business losses if not renewed by the end of the year. But it was lashed to the mast of the estate-tax, a poison-pill for any Senate bill, no matter how broadly supported. House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) have painted themselves into a rhetorical corner, insisting repeatedly that the trifecta is an all-or-nothing proposition. Boehner was emphatic last week about staying the course with the trifecta bill at a press conference, stating, "Will we break it up? Absolutely not. Do I need to spell it? Absolutely not. That bill is the bill and will be the bill and if anybody wants any part of the bill they get to vote for all of it or none of it." Likewise, Frist has not yet backed off his pronouncements in August that members will not have the opportunity to vote separately on the elements of the trifecta. He is considering the idea of sweetening the minimum wage provision by fixing the penalty on workers in states that do not count tips as wages. He has also suggested he might add some middle-class taxes cuts to the trifecta package. Frist has ruled nothing out, saying all options are still on the table. Still, Frist is getting some tacit push-back from Republican colleagues who are seeking to break the logjam. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who complained bitterly about the extenders he championed sinking along with the trifecta, is now talking about pushing off any vote on the extenders until a post-election lame-duck session of Congress. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) told reporters last week that the package remains three votes shy of the 60-vote threshold needed for passage and he doubts the bill could be altered to attract three more supporters. Democrats remain almost entirely united in opposition to the trifecta bill because of the estate tax provision, which they say will bankrupt federal coffers by giving unnecessary tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. Without question, GOP rank-and-file pressure on leadership to relent and allow a separate vote on the extenders and minimum wage prior to the Nov. 7 election is building, as members in tight races are desperate to deliver legislative accomplishments. If Frist and his cohorts do not bring the trifecta to the floor or refuse to break it up into three bills, other options may be available. The trifecta notwithstanding, Frist and the House Republican leadership have been murmuring about extending largely middle-class tax cuts, specifically the 2001 child tax credit expansion and the reduction of the "marriage penalty." Finding themselves in a desperate struggle to maintain control of both houses of Congress, Republicans might seek to garner key middle-class votes by making these provisions permanent.
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