Federal Update: House Passes IRS Bills, Ag Committee Approves Farm Bill
House lawmakers marked this week’s tax-filing deadline by approving a series of bills to modernize the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). On April 18, the chamber overwhelmingly approved the 21st Century IRS Act (HR 5445), which would help expand electronic filing of tax returns, allow the agency to accept credit card payments, and broaden the appeals process for taxpayers, among other things. Another measure – the Taxpayer First Act (HR 5444) – that focuses on customer service and enforcement was unanimously approved.
Earlier in the week, the House also passed 11 separate measures dealing with the IRS. If enacted, these bills would impose a wide range of measures, such as requiring the agency to give notice before closing a taxpayer assistance center, creating a centralized team of specialized employees to manage identity theft cases, and establishing better practices to protect children from fraud. The action now shifts to the upper chamber, where Senate leaders have yet to announce whether they will take up the House-passed bills or draft their own legislation.
House Ag Committee Approves Farm Bill
The House Agriculture Committee on April 18 approved along party lines their version of a Farm Bill reauthorization package – the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (HR 2). The legislation, which Republican committee leaders unveiled on April 13, would reauthorize for five years various commodity, trade, rural development, agricultural research, and nutrition programs. The current Farm Bill (PL 113-79) is set to expire on September 30.
As expected, the partisan proposal includes a number of provisions that are designed to restrict eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In general, the legislation would require all able-bodied adults – unless there are children under the age of six in the household – to be engaged in at least 20 hours of work or work-related activities each week in order to remain eligible for SNAP. The requirement would be effective after the first month of receiving benefits.
The bill also would restrict categorical eligibility to only those individuals receiving TANF cash assistance or other TANF supports, such as child care. Currently, there are other ways of becoming eligible for SNAP, such as receiving benefits from a state assistance program or Supplemental Security Income. Additionally, the proposal would effectively eliminate the use of the standard utility disallowance and instead would require SNAP participants to submit utility bills and would count any Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) benefits when determining SNAP benefits. Given the focus on work, the measure would nearly triple the amount of funding for SNAP Employment and Training programs.
Aside from the proposed SNAP work requirements, Democrats have also expressed concern with a number of federal forest management reforms that were included in the Farm Bill rewrite. Specifically, the legislation seeks to expedite approvals for logging in national forests through the use of categorical exclusions (CEs). Projects that could be accelerated through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process include those that address insect and disease infestation, reduce hazardous fuel loads, protect municipal water sources, enhance critical habitat, and increase water yield, among other things. It should be noted that this language, as well as several other forestry provisions, were included in the House-approved Resilient Federal Forests Act (HR 2936), also known as the Westerman bill.
At this point, there is no clear timeline for action in the House. However, the lower chamber is likely to consider the legislation sometime in the coming months. With Democrats opposed, it will be up to GOP leaders to corral enough votes among their caucus for passage. In particular, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) will need to rely on support from the conservative Freedom Caucus, which has yet to issue its evaluation of the measure.
Even if HR 2 is ultimately approved in the House, the package – in its current form – is dead on arrival in the Senate, where it will need at least 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster. For their part, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) have indicated that they will focus on crafting a bipartisan bill that would not make any major changes to the SNAP program. Their proposal is likely to be unveiled sometime in May.