Between the Lines: Dear Congress: Stop fighting and focus on this key issue

Congress failed to agree. Again. Big surprise.

You had to make a concerted effort to avoid hearing that the Congressional supercommittee that was supposed to lead us back onto the path of fiscal responsibility really isn't all that super.

It failed to reach any type of agreement. Not even a small morsel of middle ground dished up to try to soothe the appetites of American citizens hungering for some signs of cooperation from Capitol Hill as they wait for Thanksgiving's arrival.

American people have been served, well, a turkey of a deal in strictly the political sense. And members of both major political parties have been busy carving up heaping platefuls of this fowl, er foul holiday treat for us all as I write this.

"The congressional Supercommittee has failed to develop a bipartisan agreement to reduce the deficit because Republicans … demanded more tax breaks for billionaires and protected tax loopholes for Big Oil, while insisting that the Medicare guarantee be eliminated," shouts an e-mail that landed with a thud in my electronic mail today from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"Instead of joining Republicans in making tough decisions to address our nation's runaway entitlement spending, Democrats would rather increase taxes on America's job creators," Sen. John Thune sternly states in an e-mail his office sent my way.

Everyone has dug in. The failure to find even a tiny crumb of compromise is currently wreaking havoc. The failed supercommittee talks are knocking the stuffing out of the U.S. stock market's recent upward momentum.

And it forces us all to ask ourselves, "If Congress can't take care of the really big ticket items, like this issue, what about the smaller stuff, the issues that don't always make the news?"

Case in point: Adoption.

Think about it for a moment. You likely know: a) someone who was adopted; b) someone or some couple who expanded their lives by adopting a child; c) someone who recognized that they weren't ready to raise a child and through adoption made sure he or she is now in a stable, loving home; d) all of the above.

Guess who you can count on to screw up something so important? You guessed it. Congress.

The Argus Leader reported this week that Congress' financial involvement in encouraging adoptions appears to be nearing an end, a reality that some fear could discourage adoption in this state and country.

Families who adopted a child last year or this year and received more than $13,000 in tax credits because of it – whether they owed federal income tax or not – lose that benefit starting Jan. 1. By the end of next year, other tax credits that helped to encourage adoptions will be lost.

Since 1997, the adoption tax credit has helped thousands of middle-income American families defray the high costs of adoption. In 2001, Congress extended those credits until Dec. 31, 2010, increased the initial maximum credit and indexed that maximum so it would go up because of inflation.

Health care reform legislation brought more improvements, most notably making the credit refundable last year and this year. So regardless of what a family pays in federal income tax, it still could receive the maximum adoption credit.

As it is now, however, that refundable tax credit expires at year's end. Next year, families that adopt still can reduce their federal income tax obligation by up to $12,170. But they will get no additional tax credit refunded when what they owe gets to zero.

At the end of next year, the adoption tax credit expires. And unlike the past, when families or individuals did not have to count adoption assistance they received from employers as income, that benefit will expire at the end of next year as well. (Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Nov. 21, 2011).

In summary, after December 31, the refundability of the adoption tax credit and the increase in the maximum credit amount and income exclusion that were in effect for 2010 and 2011 will be repealed, and the maximum credit and exclusion from income will be reduced to $12,170 (but with an adjustment for inflation since 2010).

And unless further legislation is passed, there will be no adoption tax credit in 2013 and beyond.

We hope, hope, hope (can't emphasize this enough) that Congress gets it act together at least long enough to extend this tax credit far into the future. We know that taxes and the federal budget are being used as political footballs right now, being passed and punted around at whim.

Please, let the games stop long enough to make sure that benefits that help make adoptions possible are restored.

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