WASHINGTON -- Republicans on a congressional tax-writing committee objected Tuesday to the cost of a bill that would spend $1 million a year to help keep foster kids out of the sex trade, and then voted for $310 billion in tax breaks for businesses.
Many Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee backed the foster kids measure, but they removed a key provision that would have added $12 million to its 10-year cost and that was not paid for with budget cuts elsewhere.
The GOP lawmakers made no such objections to the $310 billion over 10 years that it would cost to make permanent six expired tax cuts that primarily benefit large corporations, including the so-called GE loophole. Lacking "pay-fors," the cost of those cuts would be added to the deficit.
Democrats said the moves showed where Republican priorities really lie.
"Against the huge tax breaks that the committee is considering today, the amount of this amendment for some of our most desperate young people is a pittance," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who had offered the foster kids provision that was stripped out. "If you ever needed to see a concrete example of the tradeoffs between corporate tax breaks and support for the most vulnerable in our society, it can be found right here."
Doggett's provision aimed to reimburse states for ensuring that foster kids who age out of the system have proper documents, like Social Security cards and medical records, so that they can obtain a regular job instead of turning to the underground economy.
"These at-risk kids, who are basically dumped on the street in many cases, can't find employment, don't have other means of supporting themselves, and too many of them turn to prostitution," Doggett said. "I thought that this provision ... was a modest way of addressing that, at least, say, so they can go flip burgers or do whatever other tasks they might do."
Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) did not address the substance of Doggett's complaint, but pledged to work with him to see if there might be a way to add back the provision. Doggett withdrew an amendment to restore the funding in hopes of adding it back later.
"It is an incredible conflict in priorities where we can't do $1 million a year for desperate youth, but we can do $310 billion over the next 10 years in significant corporate tax breaks that are not being paid for," Doggett said.
The biggest corporate break -- $156 billion over 10 years -- would be the research and development tax credit. It primarily benefits companies with more than $250 million in annual revenue. The size of that break could get bigger if attempts to loosen its rules succeed. Yet many analysts question whether the R&D credit works at all.
Two of the other corporate tax breaks are loopholes that have let companies like General Electric and Apple shield billions in profits overseas. The "active financing exception" has benefited GE handsomely, helping it to pay no U.S. taxes some years. It would cost taxpayers $59 billion to extend for 10 years. Apple has made aggressive use of another loophole known as a "look-through" rule for foreign subsidiaries. A recent bipartisan Senate report found Apple had hidden billions in profits that way.The look-through provision is worth $20 billion across a decade.
"There's a lot of reason to believe that these two breaks are really just breaks for companies that want to shift profits offshore," Steve Wamhoff, the legislative director at Citizens for Tax Justice, told HuffPost.
The top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), also argued during debate that the other party's willingness to tack so much onto the deficit was hypocritical, especially when House Republican leaders are refusing to do the same in the interest of extending long-term unemployment insurance benefits -- or even to consider a Senate bill that found a way to pay for those benefits.
"To say the Republican action today is hypocritical is a serious understatement," said Levin, who also complained that Camp's recent proposal for broader tax reform would be undermined by making these particular tax breaks permanent.
Doggett suggested that principle had less to do with the GOP votes than pressure from donors and lobbyists.
"The investments that corporations made in lobbying -- more than many pay in taxes -- today demonstrates what a wise investment they made," he told HuffPost after the votes.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.