Legislation that would make President Donald Trump’s payroll tax deferral plan optional for federal employees and members of the military received opposition on the Senate floor Dec. 3, preventing a proposed unanimous consent passage and pushing the potential for enactment timeline further back.

The Preventing Employees from Surprise Taxes Act was originally introduced Oct. 9, shortly after the tax deferral was slated to go into effect, and received bicameral and bipartisan support.

“Most private sector employers didn’t participate and their employees and workers didn’t want them to participate. Unfortunately, the one big exception to this have been members of our armed forces, the folks who every day stand guard to protect our country, and federal employees who do the nation’s business with respect to important services they provide,” said bill cosponsor Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., on the Senate floor.

“And as the private sector has rejected this, we’ve heard from thousands of federal employees who say, ‘we don’t want to participate either.’ We’ve heard from members of the armed forces that say, ‘we don’t want to be used as guinea pigs and required to participate.’ So I want to be really clear that if we don’t correct this, the damage will continue to be done, and these members of our armed forces and federal employees will be forced to pay even more back after the holidays.”

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., rose in opposition to the bill, calling for Congress to instead pass a payroll tax holiday measure, which would ensure that those who received tax deferrals on their 2020 paychecks would not have to pay that money back in 2021:

“Instead of coming to the floor today to pass a bill that undermines a payroll tax holiday and save folks more of their hard-earned money, I urge my colleagues here before us to work members of his caucus and get COVID-19 relief passed.”

But Van Hollen noted that making the payroll tax deferral optional for feds and service members would not prevent Congress from later passing legislation that would forgive the funds already deferred to those who have participated in the program.

He added that the secretary of treasury had in a September hearing called the avenue to opt-out of the deferral program “reasonable,” and members of Congress had themselves decided not to participate in the deferral program for their staffs’ paychecks.

“Today, Senate Republicans chose to aid and abet President Trump in his payroll tax scheme. They once again put the personal whims and interests of this president over the American people — and are allowing our military members and federal employees to be used as a pawn in their game,” said Van Hollen in a statement.

“Their refusal to make the payroll tax deferral voluntary — especially when the Republican Senate leadership has declined to subject its own staff to this requirement — reeks of hypocrisy and political cowardice at the expense of our troops and federal employees.”

Feds and service members have likely already received several larger-than-average paychecks due to the deferral and will be required to pay back that money through deductions on January through April paychecks next year, unless Congress passes tax holiday legislation.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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