The US House of Representatives passed the most sweeping rewrite of corporate tax law in nearly two decades, a measure designed to end a nasty trade war with Europe and shower US$136 billion in new tax breaks on businesses, farmers and other groups. \nThe measure was approved on Thursday evening on a 280-141 vote, sending it to the Senate, where it was expected to be approved before the end of the week, when lawmakers hope to adjourn to hit the campaign trail. \nSupporters argued that the centerpiece of the legislation -- tax relief for US factories -- was critically needed to aid beleaguered manufacturers who have suffered 2.7 million lost jobs over the past four years. But opponents charged that the tax package had grown into a massive giveaway that will add to the complexity of the tax system and end up rewarding multinational companies that move jobs overseas. \n"It's Christmas in October for multinational companies and lobbyists with friends in high places," said Democratic Representative Charles Rangel. "But if you are a worker concerned about manufacturing jobs moving overseas, it's still the season for Halloween horrors." \nGovernment watchdog and deficit reduction groups expressed disappointment with the vote. \n"This bill is an orgy of 276 special interest tax breaks and giveaways that amounts to a cynical attempt to bribe swing states in one of the closest elections in our nation's history. Ethanol, tobacco bailout, breaks for NASCAR -- you name it," said Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense. \nBut House Ways and Means Chairman William Thomas, a California Republican, argued that the legislation was urgently needed to end sanctions on US products exported to Europe and provide tax relief that will create jobs. \n"This legislation achieves a good balance by ending escalating sanctions on American products, offering manufacturing tax relief to spur job creation ... and leveling the playing field for US businesses competing in the worldwide economy," he said. \nThe original purpose for the legislation was to repeal a US$5 billion annual tax break provided to American exporters that was ruled illegal by the Geneva-based World Trade Organization. \nRepeal of the tax break was needed to lift retaliatory tariffs that are now being imposed on more than 1,600 American manufactured products and farm goods exported to Europe. \nThe bill replaces the US$49.2 billion export tax break with US$136 billion in new tax breaks over the next decade for a wide array of groups from farmers, fishermen and bow and arrow hunters to some of America's largest corporations. \nThe legislation also includes a US$10.1 billion buyout of quotas held by tobacco farmers. \nHowever, a Senate provision that would have coupled this buyout with regulation of tobacco by the Food and Drug Administration was dropped by the conference committee that ironed out differences between the two chambers. \nIn the House debate, Democrats said the Bush administration had moved to distance itself from the legislation, pointing to a letter Treasury Secretary John Snow wrote this week complaining about "a myriad of special interest tax provisions that benefit few taxpayers and increase the complexity of the tax code." \nThe major new tax break would provide US$76.5 billion in relief over 10 years to manufacturers and other US producers, broadly defined to include construction companies, architectural firms, film and music producers and the oil and gas industry. \nOpponents argued that the oil and gas industry, which is enjoying record prices for their products, should not be included in a bill that was intended to encourage American manufacturers to keep their factories in the US and not move them overseas.
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