December is mega-tax-bill time on Capitol Hill, when legislation loaded with gifts and goodies for special-interest constituents moves ahead for action before the end of the year. House Republicans have unveiled their 2018 version — nearly 300 pages worth — and it has goodies galore: Write-offs and tax-credit deals for racehorse owners, “motor sports entertainment complexes,” TV and film producers, mine-rescue team trainers, two-wheeled electric vehicles, Indian coal facilities, economic development in American Samoa and a bunch of others. And yes, homeowners and builders are on the gift list as well:
• Did you pay mortgage-insurance premiums this year on a conventional home loan, a Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-backed mortgage or a Veterans (VA) loan? Congratulations! You’re a potential beneficiary if the bill passes.
• Did you install energy-conserving improvements in your house this year, such as high-performance windows, doors, roofing or skylights? Did you buy an energy-efficient furnace, hot-water heater or air conditioner? The new tax bill has a little something for you. Ditto if you built an energy-efficient new house.
• Were you underwater on your mortgage, forced to do a short sale, foreclosed upon or negotiated a loan workout agreement this year in which the lender forgave the balance owed? Good news. You’re covered by the bill — the IRS will not tax the forgiven balance of your debt as ordinary income if the bill passes and this tax-code provision is extended.
• Were you a victim of one the country’s recent natural disasters, such as hurricanes Florence or Michael, the Camp and Woolsey wildfires or the Kilauea volcanic eruption? The bill offers tax relief to assist your recovery.
The bill clearly has valuable provisions for certain groups of homeowners. But it also has fundamental problems. Start with the basics: Can it pass? One of the risks of sponsoring tax proposals late in a congressional session — House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, only introduced it Nov. 26 — is that they can get squished in the last-minute crush of higher-profile legislation, such as this year’s federal-budget resolution. If issues like funding a southern border wall are not solved, there could be a government shutdown. Passing a tax bill in the middle of this brewing partisan storm is a serious challenge.
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