As Congress continues to wrestle with the so-called “extenders” legislation that would renew dozens of narrowly targeted tax breaks, the debate still lacks an essential element: Any serious scrutiny of the extenders themselves.
Do these tax breaks – which are much the same as federal spending programs in disguise – really accomplish their stated goals? Are these goals worth the cost? “No one really knows because no one ever asks,” says Robert Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition.
“At a time when the President is commendably urging all federal agencies to identify their lowest priority and least effective items, Congress should devote the same level of scrutiny to the tax code,” Bixby writes in a recent blog post. “The extenders would be a good place to start.”
Ending some or all of these tax breaks – also known as “tax subsidies” -- could raise revenue needed for deficit reduction while simplifying the tax code and broadening the tax base. But the annual scramble over the extenders means special-interest campaign contributions for legislators and repeated billing opportunities for lobbyists.
These tax breaks should no longer get a free pass. At a minimum, they should be subjected to careful scrutiny before Congress acts on them. Now that they have expired, however, Bixby says the best decision might be: “Do not resuscitate.”