A pair of unsettling developments are on the horizon. And the horizon metaphor may be apt given that I'm discussing a pair of sunset laws, or laws with an expiration date. In other words, if these laws aren't renewed or updated they'll expire. So, what laws am I discussing? I'm referring to the child tax credit bill passed by Democrats this year and the tax cuts passed by Republicans in 2017. Both measures were passed on party-line votes. Both expire in time to be volatile fodder for upcoming political cycles.
The more recent of these two measures, the child tax credit, expires in one year. This was part of the Democrats' most recent recovery package. It will probably prove to be popular with those receiving it and could prove to be an electrified third rail for politicians opposing it. The debate over extending it will take place next spring, just as the nation braces itself for midterm elections. Might this be a way for Democrats to expand their majorities in the federal Congress? Perhaps.
Meanwhile, the tax cuts brought into law by the previous president and the Republicans when they had the a majority expire, somewhat, in time for the 2024 election. Normally, tax bills are ten-year pieces of legislation. However, if the 2017 tax bill is not renewed in 2024, the rates jump back to the pre-2018 rates for 2025. This early expiration served two purposes, one of which is financial. The bill scored less expensively when the rates expired after eight years. Thus the cuts looked less costly than they really were. Secondly, well, the extension or demise of the "Trump" tax cuts will occur during the presidential election.
So, what we have here are two poison pills. They're evidence of cynical gameplay by our two parties. They're also evidence of what the strange world of filibusters and reconciliation bring to us. Bills that have to do with revenue (or federal judges) can get through on reconciliation. Thus they need no bipartisan cooperation. When government wants to show love, it gives money. In 2017 Republicans showed love to their constituents with tax cuts. Democrats to households with kids. For a long time I was ambivalent about the filibuster, but I now find myself wearying of it. It's something that can be gamed. Our two parties have figured out how to game it. It gets in the way of some meaningful changes (such as voter reform and the minimum wage) but not others (tax/spend bills and judicial confirmations). These poison pills, which will fill the airwaves in the next two election cycles, are predictable and should attract more attention and thought now before they become fodder in an election year.