The PJ Tatler

It's just a matter of definition

During the question and answer session following a panel discussion broadcast by CSPAN featuring past heads of the CBO going back at least 20 years, a well-spoken young woman, introducing herself as a representative for the Concord Coalition, made a statement and asked a question that involved the term “tax expenditures”.  For those not familiar with the term, tax expenditures are “(r)evenue losses suffered by the federal government as a result of provisions of the Internal Revenue Code which grant special tax benefits to certain kinds of taxpayers or certain activities engaged in by taxpayers. This approach recognizes that such provisions are the economic equivalent of a collection of the forgiven tax liability and a simultaneous direct budget outlay to the benefited taxpayers.”

Given this definition, the young lady suggested that rescission of tax rate decreases should be accounted for in the budget as spending cuts. Within this understanding there seems to be a hidden premise: A portion of a citizen’s income and capital in fact is the property of the federal government; property, which through changes in the tax code, the federal government chooses to expend on that citizen.  For example, take the currently fashionable Clinton era tax rates as representing that portion of a citizen’s yearly income and capital owned by the federal government. Then the Bush, and now Obama, rate reductions represent federal (tax) expenditures on each citizen who benefits from those reductions, and as the young lady suggested, if rolled back, should be accounted for as spending cuts in the budgeting process.

You see, if only Republicans would adopt a small change in language, the partisan divide over spending cuts and tax rate increases that wounds our Congress and nation might heal quickly. There would be no rate increases; only spending cuts. Of course, we would be moving a little further away from Lincoln’s understanding of the relationship between capital and man; a relationship distilled to its essence when he observed that, “(i)t may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces”.

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