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US Senator Bill NelsonU.S. Senator Bill Nelson - Update
First of the new year, end of 112th congress

Bipartisan Step toward Fiscal Cliff Resolution 

Before officially adjourning on January 3, Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, a bill that made permanent a range of tax cuts for individuals earning up to $400,000 annually ($450,000 for married couples), prevented cuts in payments to Medicare physicians for one year, extended emergency unemployment benefits for a year, and continued the pay freeze for members of Congress that started in 2010.

 The Senate overwhelmingly supported this bipartisan agreement, by a vote of 89 to 8.

Senator Nelson voted for the bill because it protects the middle class, while taking a necessary step forward in reining in our budget deficit, and ends the uncertainty of prior law by making many of the tax provisions a permanent part of the tax code.

Marginal tax rates for individuals earning more than $400,000 annually ($450,000 for married couples) will return to Clinton-era levels, and capital gains and dividend income will be taxed at a maximum rate of 23.8 percent.

For more information
Lynn Bannister: Director of Outreach
111 North Adams St
Tallahassee, FL  32301
850-942-8415 / 850-942-8450 (fax)

•  Permanent AMT Fix: The legislation permanently raises the exemption levels for the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and indexes it to inflation, preventing more than one million Floridians from owing the tax when they file their tax return this year.
•  Middle-class Tax Breaks: The bill extends tax breaks critical to middle class families, including the $2,500 American Opportunity credit for higher education expenses and the $1,000 child tax credit.
•  Retirement Accounts: The bill also allows individuals to shift more of their retirement savings from traditional 401(k) accounts into “Roth-style” 401(k) accounts offered by the same employer. Roth accounts allow employees to pay taxes at the time funds are initially deposited and avoid taxes on the earnings at the time of distribution.

Estate Tax: The bill permanently sets the maximum estate tax rate at 40 percent, allows the first $5 million in assets to be exempt from the tax, reunifies the estate and gift tax credits, and allows for spousal portability of the exemption amount so that the total exemption of both husband and wife is $10 million.

Tax Extenders: The legislation extends through 2013 several other important tax provisions, such as the state sales tax deduction, the tax exemption for mortgage debt forgiveness, the mortgage insurance premium deduction, the research and development tax credit, the work opportunity tax credit, and various tax incentives for business investment. These tax provisions ensure ordinary Americans can make ends meet and help stimulate investment at home, instead of abroad.

Payroll Tax Cut Expired: The bill did not extend the two percent payroll tax cut that was in effect for the last two years, which increased the take-home pay of Floridians by an average of $916 per year. The tax cut expired at the end of 2012.

Sequestration Cuts: The automatic across the- board cuts to defense and nondefense programs set to take effect on January 3, 2013 were delayed by two months in order to give Congress and the Administration more time to come together on a more finely targeted deficit-reduction strategy. A comprehensive deficit reduction deal is needed to replace these indiscriminate cuts, as they have the potential to weaken our national security and reverse our economic recovery.

Energy-related Tax Provisions: The American Taxpayer Relief Act also includes a number of provisions that promote alternative energy development and energy efficiency including a one-year extension and modification of the renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC) for wind, until January 1, 2014. The bill extends tax incentives for biodiesel and the cellulosic biofuel producer credit, which was expanded to include Senator Nelson’s Algae-based Renewable Fuel Promotion Act. (The production of algae-based fuel has enormous potential for growth in Florida's unique environment.)

Partial Farm Bill Extension Passed in Cliff Deal

As part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act, the 2008 Farm Bill was extended for nine months until September 2013. This includes an extension of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC), the Dairy Product Price Support program, and the Direct Payments program.

Left out of the bill is funding for conservation programs, disaster programs, and emergency assistance for farm rates. Senator Nelson voted for the more comprehensive 2012 Farm Bill, which passed the Senate in a bipartisan 64-35 vote in June. The House declined to take up that bill.

Senate and House Approve FY13 NDAA Conference Report
Pentagon to spend $650 billion

The Senate passed a measure authorizing the Pentagon to spend $650 billion for fiscal year 2013. The measure, already passed by the House, now heads to the President.

The National Defense Authorization Bill contains several provisions that will benefit Florida, including language approving seven military construction projects totaling $157.8 billion. The legislation prohibits the Navy from retiring, or using funds to prepare to retire any Ticonderoga-class Cruisers.

The Navy had planned to retire four cruisers in fiscal year 2013, including the USS Vicksburg at Mayport. In addition the bill requires the Navy to maintain operation capability and perform any necessary maintenance on each cruiser in Navy inventory.

Dignified Burial of Veterans

The U.S. Senate passed legislation aimed at ensuring veterans receive proper and dignified burials.

The Dignified Burial and Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act, S. 3202, sponsored by Florida Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio, along with the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Patty Murray (D-WA), and ranking member, Richard Burr (RNC) was introduced in May after a WWII veteran was found buried in a cardboard box at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. Among other things, the legislation authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide a casket or urn to impoverished veterans with no next of kin for burial in a National Cemetery. The bill now goes to the House for passage.

Establishing an Open Burn Pit Registry

The Senate passed a measure establishing a voluntary database for service members who may have been exposed to burn pits so that the Veterans Administration can track them and notify them of significant developments associated with burn pit exposure.

Senator Nelson is a cosponsor of the standalone bill to create a burn pit registry, and has been working on the burn pits issue since hearing about a constituent, Army Sgt. Bill McKenna, who died from cancer that the VA linked to toxic fumes he breathed while exposed to open-air burn pits in Iraq. Other provisions added to the bill:

•  Restoration, operation and maintenance of Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines
• Providing transportation from VA facilities to counseling and vocational rehabilitation
• Extension of report requirement for Special Committee on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
• Off-base transition training for veterans and their spouses

Bill Kling Clinic Naming

The Senate passed a measure to rename the Broward County VA Outpatient Clinic at 9800 West Commercial Boulevard in Sunrise, Florida as the William ‘Bill’ Kling Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic. Senator Nelson introduced standalone legislation in September to rename the clinic in honor of Bill Kling, a prominent Broward veteran who passed away in August.

Sustaining U.S. Leadership in Space

The House passed, without objection, a bill that reaffirms Congress’s commitment to a robust future for the space program in the post-shuttle era.

H.R. 6586, the Space Exploration Sustainability Act, included a measure added by Senator Nelson and Senator Hutchison to help ensure the success of the U.S. civil space program, both in maintaining our access to the International Space Station (ISS) national laboratory, and in pursuing the new vision and mission of exploring beyond low-Earth orbit.

The measure extends the authority for third-party liability indemnification for commercial launch providers, which is essential to enable the commercial market to grow and thrive. The bill also ensures that starting in the 2016-2018 period, the U.S. can purchase crew launch servicers on Russian Soyuz vehicles as a back-up capability to the planned commercial crew providers now under early development and expected to be the primary means for transporting crew members to and from the ISS.

The president is expected to sign the bill in the coming weeks.

Comprehensive Hurricane Sandy Relief

Senator Nelson voted for H.R. 1, the vehicle for the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief package. The bill included funding for the agencies engaged in ongoing Hurricane Sandy relief efforts and an increase for the National Flood Insurance Program.

The Senate sent this bill to the House for final passage by that chamber. The House did not vote on H.R. 1 prior to the adjournment of the 112th Congress on Jan 2, so the bill expired.

In order to take up any Hurricane Sandy relief aid in the future, all provisions in whole or part must be reintroduced during the 113th Congress, which convened on January 3. The House has indicated that they plan to vote on a revised bill on January 15.

Hurricane Sandy Flood Relief

On January 4, by voice vote, Congress authorized an additional $9.7 billion for FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) primarily for Hurricane Sandy claims. Senator Nelson supported this increase as a part of H.R. 1 in the 112th Congress. Had Congress not acted swiftly on providing additional funds for the NFIP, FEMA would have run out of money to pay out Hurricane Sandy claims, affecting over 100,000 policyholders.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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