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K Street Stakeholders Not Wooed by Tax Plan

President Barack Obama’s call for selected tax incentives and transportation spending intended to boost the private sector is being greeted with a shrug from much of the business lobby.

K Street groups have long supported individual elements of the president’s plan, including the research and development tax credit and a proposal to deduct the cost of capital investments.

But many are more focused on prodding lawmakers to extend all of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts, including those in the top income brackets — an effort that Obama opposes.

Perhaps even more importantly, the business community fears anticipated offsets to pay for the tax benefits, which although not entirely spelled out by the administration could well include a proposal to curb foreign tax credits.

There isn’t “a groundswell of support from the business community,” said Ralph Hellmann, senior vice president of the Information Technology Industry Council. The council, which represents high-tech companies, has been frustrated with Congress for not extending the research and development tax credits, which expired last year.

Hellmann, who said he will discuss legislative strategy with his members this week, said that the Senate may try to pass a limited tax-extenders bill either in the coming weeks or in a lame-duck session.

But he said the best bet for a more comprehensive tax package may be next year if Republicans capture one or both chambers of Congress.

“There may be a new gang in town after November,” said Hellmann, a former aide to then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). “The climate will be better for the business community on taxes.”

Indeed, some business leaders, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have been actively campaigning for Republican candidates in key states around the country. The chamber recently began running ads against Sen. Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who is in a tough race against Republican businesswoman Carly Fiorina.

The chamber is also leading a lobbying effort to keep all the Bush tax cuts in place.

But even if the GOP seizes control of Congress, the party will not likely have a veto-proof majority, noted Jade West, senior vice president for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. She was pessimistic that a tax package that the business community could accept will become law anytime soon.

Asked what her group was doing to lobby for the tax provisions in the Obama plan, West said, “not a thing.”

She said her group and others feared the offsets to pay for the cuts would amount to “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” And West said she didn’t see a realistic drive on Capitol Hill to approve the changes and that Obama’s proposals were intended more as fodder for the midterm campaigns.

“This all looks so terribly political,” she said.

Even the Business Roundtable, a group of corporate executives that has been more friendly to Obama than the chamber and other business groups, was lukewarm in its reaction to the president’s plan.

“While we support tax incentives to accelerate business investment and expand and simplify and make permanent the tax credit for research, we do not support raising taxes on U.S. companies to offset the cost of these new economic proposals,” the roundtable said in a statement.

Manufacturing Concerns

The National Association of Manufacturers has backed the tax incentives and infrastructure spending, but a spokeswoman said many of the group’s members are worried about possible tax increases on higher-income individuals. Based on IRS data, NAM has estimated that 73 percent of manufacturers pay income taxes at the individual rate.

“For our people, you are coupling the good with the bad,” said Erin Streeter, a NAM spokeswoman.

She added that the group will seek more information in the coming weeks about how the cost of the tax incentives in the Obama plan would be defrayed.

“The devil is in the details,” she said.

While a number of groups are sitting on the sidelines for now, a handful will actively lobby on specific measures when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill this week.

The National Federation of Independent Business is focusing on small-business legislation that has languished but that Senate leaders expect to take up this week.

The NFIB has been lobbying for an amendment to a small-business bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). It would reduce tax paperwork requirements for small businesses in the health care reform law. The group opposes an alternative amendment, sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), which it claims would not remove the administrative burden created by the health bill.

However, NFIB spokeswoman Melissa Sharp said the group was not sure the Johanns provision had the backing of the 60 Senators it would need to win passage.

Promoting the Package

Obama’s proposal to increase spending on roads, bridges and runways does have the enthusiastic backing of certain industry coalitions, led by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

The president has called for a $50 billion investment to pay for the improvements. ARTBA has been pressing lawmakers to move ahead on this spending, which is expected to be included in transportation reauthorization legislation.

But ARTBA spokesman Jeff Solsby said it is an “uphill push” to get lawmakers to approve the spending at a time of increasing concern about the deficit.

Some groups and lawmakers have also expressed concern that the administration would raise taxes to pay for the infrastructure improvements.

Solsby said that supporters have been lobbying through two coalitions, one led by the chamber called Americans for Transportation Mobility, and another called the Transportation Construction Coalition, which is backed by the construction industry and its unions.

The TCC has purchased billboard space in key states to prod lawmakers to approve the funding. The billboards, whose messages include “sick of congestion, tell Congress that” are up in South Dakota, South Carolina, Iowa and Illinois.

Solsby said he was unsure when lawmakers would take up the infrastructure spending policy. “Our hope is it gets done as soon as possible,” he said.

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