WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders have unveiled long-awaited compromise measures on funding the government’s agencies and extending tax breaks to business and individuals.
Included in the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill released late Tuesday night are new fiscal year 2016 funding levels for key trade agencies and a retail-backed cybersecurity measure designed to increase cyber-threat information sharing between the public and private sectors.
The tax package would renew more than 50 tax provisions that expired at the end of 2014, according to the National Retail Federation.
Negotiators huddled for weeks to find common ground on the omnibus spending bill after lawmakers were forced to pass two stop-gap funding bills to avoid a government shutdown. The House is expected to vote on Friday with the Senate following shortly thereafter.
Retailers hailed negotiators for including a measure on cyber information sharing in the package.
“Retailers are grateful to House leadership for making cybersecurity legislation a top priority and including it in a year-end package,” said Nicholas Ahrens, vice president of privacy and cybersecurity at the Retail Industry Leaders Association. “Cyber attacks will increasingly be the tool of choice for criminal syndicates, rogue states and terrorist organizations bent on disrupting and damaging America’s economy. Giving businesses the tools and legal protections needed to share cyber-threat indicators is the first step in what must be a national commitment to protecting American businesses and consumers.”
The cybersecurity measure included in the omnibus spending bill marks the culmination of six years of legislative work on strengthening cybersecurity defenses and combines three bills that passed the House and Senate earlier this year. It aims to facilitate more information sharing on cyber threats and attacks between businesses and the federal government in the wake of a series of massive data breaches that have hit such retailers as Target, Neiman Marcus and Home Depot, as well as government agencies.
Proponents of the bill had to overcome mounting opposition from digital rights groups, technology companies and privacy protection advocates who tried to block it, arguing that it would place too much private data in the hands of the government.
The massive omnibus spending bill, logging in at more than 2,000 pages, also increases funding levels for key trade-related agencies.
Funding for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, the leading agency in trade negotiations, which wrapped up talks on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership pact in October, would be increased slightly to $54.5 million from $54.2 million for fiscal year 2016 that began Oct. 1.
The legislation also increases the budget of the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration to $493 million from $472 million. The ITA leads President Obama’s National Export Initiative and also houses the Office of Textiles & Apparel.
The budget for Customs and Border Protection, which makes seizures of counterfeit goods and monitors cargo containers and the flow of commerce through U.S. ports, will be $8.6 billion.
Retailers also lauded the tax package that would renew more than 50 tax provisions that expired at the end of 2014, according to the National Retail Federation. The NRF said the new tax package will make permanent some of the tax breaks, which have had to be renewed by Congress frequently.
The bill would make permanent a provision that “allows retailers to depreciate remodeling and other improvements to their stores over 15 years rather than the previous standard of 39 years.”
“The provision, which also applies to restaurants, is important because retailers typically remodel every five to seven years,” NRF said. “In addition to helping keep stores attractive to customers and profitable, the remodeling work creates tens of thousands of construction jobs each year.”
Another provision that allows companies to write-off 50 percent of the cost of improvements under “bonus depreciation” would be extended for five years and also be expanded to cover stores and restaurants that are owned or leased.
David French, senior vice president for government relations at the NRF, said the tax measure is “the first step toward fundamental tax reform that our economy so urgently needs.”
“We hope [it] will be a stepping stone to more fundamental tax reform that provides U.S. businesses with a more competitive tax rate, increases investment in the United States, increases wages in the United States and helps the consumer,” French added.