If you pay attention, and most American won’t, the evidence that our elected leaders are not serious about being consistent, responsible, or even governing competently is delivered every day in packages large and small. The most recent depressing example was the bi-partisan tag-team of Sen. Marco Rubio and President Obama backing tax-exempt status for medal-winners on the U.S. Olympic team.
Sen. Rubio concocted his Olympic Tax Elimination Act on the theory that “athletes representing our nation overseas in the Olympics shouldn’t have to worry about an extra tax bill waiting for them back at home.” This is spin and nonsense. There is no “extra tax bill,” any more than there is an “extra tax bill” when your boss gives you a bonus for job well done. It’s just a regular, old-fashioned, tax bill for income, that’s all. Medal-winning Olympic athletes get bonus payments from the U.S. Olympic team. Is their income—that’s what it is, just income—-somehow less fair to tax than your income? No, of course not. Rubio’s “representing our nation overseas” justification for special treatment is naked and offensive pandering. How about people who represent our nation here, in the United States? They don’t get to travel to London, all expenses paid, like the pampered athletes—why are they less deserving of a tax break? Or why isn’t Rubio arguing, then, that all federal employees who work abroad shouldn’t be taxed? What is his logic, exactly?
Many of the Olympian medal winners will be able to convert their gold, silver and bronze into jobs, endorsements, speaking engagements and product lines. Why does Rubio think this elite group should be a high priority target for tax breaks? We know why: they are high-profile, short-term darlings of the media and the public, so lavishing gifts on them is a cynical, effective way of picking up popularity poll points.
It’s worse than mere pandering, however. This is pandering that sends the perverted message that some enterprises are more worthy and desirable than others, and that the government should tax the income from different pursuits at different rates, or not at all, based on some bureaucrat’s biased assessment of what activities benefit society. Without straining a brain cell, I think I could come up with a few thousand jobs that add more of substance to the quality of our national life than the contributions of any Olympic athlete, and so could you.
All right, Senators come up with silly ideas all the time. What makes this silly idea cause me to start marking down the calendar to the End of Days is that President Obama, our supposedly brilliant Chief Executive who says he can lead us out of the economic wilderness, immediately endorsed it. The nation’s tax code is a mess, the government hasn’t had a budget for three years, the national debt is soaring to unsustainable levels, the deficit is out of control—and yet this is the level of seriousness applied to taxes by our highest officials from both parties: an arbitrary tax break addressing a non-existent injustice for privileged celebrities whose contribution to national welfare is ephemeral at best.
At Slate, Matt Yglesias explains why this foolishness has important and alarming implications for the future:
“Broadening the tax base to finance big cuts in tax rates is the heart of Mitt Romney’s economic plan. Obama made the elimination of deductions the centerpiece of his plan to raise more revenue from the corporate income tax, and Senate Democrats are counting on broad tax reform as a key element in Democratic budget policy if Obama wins in 2012. But in specific terms, Washington remains hooked on the allure of tax breaks. The more frivolous ones, like the proposed Olympic medal exemption, have the benefit of not being very costly. And the costly ones, like the deductibility of home-mortgage interest or employer-provided health insurance, are important to wide swathes of voters. To make progress on this front, politicians have to be willing to actually articulate the benefits of a broad tax base—less evasion, less distortion of economic resources, the possibility of lower rates—and Democrats in particular need to be willing to make the case that public services are worth paying for.”
If our leaders’ dedication and resolve can be derailed by something so trivial as the opportunity to pander to the public’s summer TV heroes, what chance is there that these same hypocrites will have the political courage to undertake real tax reform?
Pointer and Source: Slate
Graphic: Ray Ortland
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