WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a giant tax package Tuesday that saves more than 20-million taxpayers from the bite of the alternative minimum tax.
At a cost of more than $100-billion, the bill also nudges the nation toward greater use of alternative energy resources, renews popular tax breaks for businesses and individuals, and extends relief to disaster victims.
It includes a provision to ensure that mental health problems get the same level of insurance benefits as other medical treatment. The bill passed 93-2, with Florida's two senators voting in favor.
The tax bill is one of several major efforts to right the teetering economy in what could be the final week of this session of Congress. Lawmakers are trying to reach agreement on a $700-billion plan to bail out failing financial institutions, and Democrats are trying to put together a stimulus package to help average citizens get through the current economic crisis.
The House could take up its version of the tax package as early as today.
The alternative minimum tax was enacted in 1969 to catch a few very rich tax dodgers. But it was never adjusted for inflation, and now Congress must act every year to ensure it doesn't catch more people. Without action, those affected could grow to 25-million from about 4-million, at an average tax increase of $2,000. The fix would cost $64-billion spread out over 10 years.
Rep. David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday that Democrats have decided to allow a quarter-century ban on drilling for oil off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to expire next week, conceding defeat in a battle with the White House and Republicans set off by $4-a-gallon gasoline prices. The change would not affect drilling off the Florida coast.