Senate Democrats were able to block a provision in Congress’ tax overhaul bill that would have gutted the Johnson Amendment, which protects the integrity of elections and of tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, by ensuring that nonprofits don’t endorse or oppose political candidates.
The House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act included language, inserted by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), that would have essentially repealed the Johnson Amendment.
The Senate version of the bill did not include the same provision, but there were fears it would be added when the two chambers reconciled their versions to come to a compromise.
Late on Dec. 14, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced the final version of the tax bill would not include the Johnson Amendment repeal because it would violate the “Byrd rule.” Named for the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the rule prevents Congress from including provisions that aren’t primarily fiscal in nature in reconciliation bills that require only a simple majority of senators to pass.
“The Johnson Amendment has broad public support,” said Maggie Garrett, AU’s legislative director. “That’s why people across the country, including leaders from the nonprofit and faith communities, stood up to tell Congress to protect the Johnson Amendment. We call on Congress to stop trying to undermine this important law.”
The final version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act had not been released at Church & State’s press time, but it was expected to include language that would expand a private school voucher-like program.
Both the House and Senate included language in their versions of the bill that would transform 529 college savings plans into a voucher-like program, giving tax breaks for those setting aside money for K-12 private school tuition.
“These voucher-like plans undermine public schools by redirecting desperately needed resources to private schools,” Garrett said. “The plans benefit the wealthiest families who can already afford to send their children to private, mostly religious schools. Families have the right to choose a private education for their children, but that choice shouldn’t come at the cost of defunding the public education system relied on by 90 percent of American school children.”
The Senate version of the bill ultimately did not include an amendment proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), which would have allowed parents who send children to private religious schools to get a tax deduction on the cost of tuition. The National Coalition for Public Education, which AU co-chairs, strongly opposed it, observing the provision would not only undermine public schools, but also violate the Constitution.