Massive Tax Giveaways Tucked into COVID Relief Bill

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There is no money in the COVID relief bill for states and cities that are verging on bankruptcy due to the collapse of tax revenues. Those states and cities support our schools. But there was lots of money for special interests.

The Washington Post reports that Congress tacked on billions of dollars in tax breaks to their favorite lobbyists. When a bill is more than 5,000 pages long, it takes time to find out what goodies were included for favored industries.

Congress on Monday unveiled a 5,593-page spending bill and then voted on it several hours later, with lawmakers claiming urgent action was needed to rescue an ailing economy ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

But tucked in the bill was over $110 billion in tax breaks that strayed far from the way the bill was marketed to many Americans. These giveaways include big tax cuts for liquor producers, the motorsports entertainment sector and manufacturers of electric motorcycles.

These measures, added onto the broader spending bill, are known as “tax extenders” — tax breaks targeted at specific, sometimes niche industries. And routinely extending these “temporary” measures has become something of a year-end tradition, despite loud complaints from some lawmakers who allege the votes largely benefit special-interest groups who stand to gain financially from the outcome.

These tax extenders are designed to be temporary but are frequently renewed, often at the urging of industry lobbyists, and done so during late-night votes at the end of the year. (The Senate vote Monday took place shortly before midnight.) The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated the extenders benefiting industry and special interests included in the stimulus bill would cost over $110 billion over 10 years.

Tax experts and good governance advocates have criticized such short-term tax relief extensions, arguing they hide the true cost of the cuts and advantage industries with the most well-connected lobbyists.
“They are a gravy train for members and lobbyists, who repeat the same exercise every year or two,” Howard Gleckman, a tax policy expert at the Urban Institute, said in an email. “The lobbyists get to keep billing hours. The members get campaign money from the same people. Many of these are classic special interest tax breaks that do not benefit the overall economy in any way.”

The federal government collected $3.4 trillion in taxes in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, but it typically allows more than $1.5 trillion in annual tax breaks, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Some of these are locked into the tax code. Others, however, were initially designed to last only a year or two but continue winning extension after extension because of intense lobbying.

President-elect Joe Biden has been critical of the plethora of tax giveaways, but he will find that both Democrats and Republicans have been steadfast in their supportive of certain tax breaks. And to win passage each year, the tax breaks are bundled together into one package for votes to draw maximum support.

Congress is scrambling to pass a coronavirus stimulus bill before the end of 2020. Here’s what you need to know about what’s included in the legislation.

The enormous new bill packages together emergency economic relief, government funding and tax cuts. The economic relief component of the bill is worth around $900 billion. The legislation included a slew of provisions that had nothing to do with coronavirus relief or funding the government, including many of the tax extenders.

One measure, for instance, makes permanent a cut in excise taxes for producers of beer, wine and distilled spirits, which first became law in 2017 as part of the Republican-led tax cut package. The cuts were due to expire without congressional action, and the alcohol industry had pushed hard for their renewal, arguing that their businesses had been decimated by the pandemic. The industry has supporters among both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, who in turn pushed their leaders to include a bill making the cuts permanent “in the next appropriate legislative package.”

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