ARI SHAPIRO, host:
Back here in Washington, the House is supposed to vote again today on a revised $700 billion bailout plan. Members stunned their leaders and the administration when they rejected a version of the bill Monday. This time, the bill comes with sweeteners to make it more appealing to Main Street. NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: This bill began as a three-page request from the White House. In the House, they picked up more than 100 pages of restrictions and oversight requirements. And on Wednesday, the Senate turned it into a 451-page behemoth. You've got the Wall Street bailout, and now disaster relief for states hit by hurricanes and floods, and middle-class relief from the dreaded alternative minimum tax, and pages of other tax extenders, continuing tax breaks that lawmakers and lobbyists worked out in past Congresses.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): It would be a blight on this Congress not to pass these tax extenders.
OVERBY: That's Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday. He was arguing that the extenders help Main Street the way the 700 billion helps Wall Street. So, what about these tax extenders? Section 503 of the bill has a quote, exemption from excise tax for certain wooden arrows designed for use by children, unquote. It's there to help Rose City Archery Inc., in Oregon. It will save the company 39 cents per arrow.
Then there's a tax write-off for auto speedways. The IRS wants it to be 15 years. NASCAR and the Senate have decided it should stay at seven years. The shorter the time, the bigger the tax break. And for Hollywood, the bill expands a $15 million tax break originally written for small filmmakers so that any filmmaker can use it - provided, that is, the movie is made in the U.S.A. Washington's leading watchdog on provisions like these is Taxpayers for Common Sense. The group's president is Ryan Alexander.
Ms. RYAN ALEXANDER (President, Taxpayers for Common Sense): Many of the tax extensions are extensions of very narrow provisions for specific industries. A lot of these different provisions have relatively low costs, but they add up. All the tax provisions together add up to about $110 billion.
OVERBY: And there's still more in the bill - energy provisions, for one thing. The Senate and House had been negotiating a new energy policy, but this week, the Senate took its provisions and put them in the Wall Street bill. So much for the House negotiators. Thus, programs that encourage so-called dirty fuels - programs that the House members thought they had killed off - all of a sudden, they're back and in a must-pass bill. Wesley Warren is program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Mr. WESLEY WARREN (Program Director, Natural Resources Defense Council): I think that what happened was the oil industry was able to exploit the situation for one last hurrah before Congress went out of town.
OVERBY: But this isn't like the usual, carefully crafted tax bill. Congressional leaders didn't have the time to target provisions for individual lawmakers. Rather, the leaders took big blocks of pending bills and plugged them in. Ken Kies is one of Washington's premier tax lobbyists.
Mr. KEN KIES (Managing Director, Federal Policy Group): It isn't the finest hour of the Congress in terms of precision negotiating. But let's face it. We're not in an environment right now where regular order is the operating way in which things are getting done.
OVERBY: But on balance, Kies calls this a good package.
Mr. KIES: It's sometimes an OK thing to be not cynical in Washington. It's rarely true, but it's occasionally the right thing to do.
OVERBY: So maybe the only cynical note is this one: As Congress enacts this $700 billion rescue for Wall Street, it is helping the rest of America with tax breaks. It just skipped the step of making up for all that lost revenue. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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