Capitol Idea: In Federal Budget Debate, Let There Be No Sacred Cows; or Sacred Horses

Horses, like this one racing at Churchill Downs, get better tax breaks than you do.

I love horses. But you know that there is something wrong with the federal government when horses get better treatment than the average American taxpayer. Yes, you read that right: horses. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a freshman Democrat from Oregon, trekked to the Senate floor to expose and denounce a special federal tax giveaway for thoroughbred racehorses.

This “Bluegrass Boondoggle,” Merkley notes, allows millionaire and billionaire racehorse owners to write off the cost of their horses in an accelerated manner, reducing the normal seven-year period for write-off to just three years. This one goodie for the special interests will end up costing U.S. taxpayers, over the course of the coming years, $126 million. “Horse racing may have been called the ‘sport of kings,’ but that doesn’t mean that the owners of horses, those millionaires and billionaires owning those horses, need royal tax treatment,” the senator wisely points out. Merkley’s also correct that saving $126 million alone won’t solve the deficit problem.

The truth is, though, that the Bluegrass Boondoggle isn’t unique. There are some 180 special tax giveaways just like it, according to former senator Alan Simpson, a conservative Republican from Wyoming. For his fellow Republicans to be protecting them now against repeal in the face of deficit-reduction is “ludicrous,” he says. “They‘re spending by any other name. They‘re really earmarks if you want to use that terrible word,” Simpson admits.

You can call them something else, too: welfare for the wealthy. Simpson, who also co-chaired President Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission, found that only 10 percent of the American public, the wealthiest people in America, use these special loopholes because, he says, “they‘re the ones who can hire the best lobbyists, go to the finance committee. The little guy had no idea of what they are. It meant nothing to him,” the former senator adds. “He does the standard deduction and walks away. We found the top 400 income earners in the United States paid an average of 16 percent income tax. And it‘s absolutely absurd.”

But even if the horse credit were the only such expenditure on the books, and we could save only $126 million, even then it would be worth killing the awful deduction. Because this: You have to save that $126 million from somewhere, and if not from the horses, then it will come from children cut off from Head Start. Or senior citizens who won’t get the food stamps they need anymore; or some other program that serves us average Americans.

Lower income and middle class Americans are taxpayers, too. And we deserve to see real value and services for the taxes we must pay. We see that value in student loans, and Medicare, and home-heating assistance. I have yet to meet a horse who’s paid a dime in taxes. We deserve to continue to have access to government services more than horses are entitled to government welfare.

Simpson, apparently however, didn’t want to get caught beating up on his own party too much. In his interview the other evening, he quickly took Obama and Democrats to task for portraying Republicans as if they “don’t care about kids and old people and veterans, that is the most disruptive, disgusting thing.” I hope Sen. Simpson is right about his fellow conservatives wanting to help kids and seniors, and vets. But, I tell Republicans, you must prove it. Choose children and the unemployed and senior citizens of modest means over horses and the rich guys who own them.

Otherwise, it will be you who are put out to pasture.

Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as In Federal Budget Debate, let There be no Sacred Cows; or Sacred Horses on Blogcritics.

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One Response to Capitol Idea: In Federal Budget Debate, Let There Be No Sacred Cows; or Sacred Horses

  1. Frank says:

    More class warfare I see. Tax loop holes don’t cost the government a dime. Nor does it cost the tax payer a dime. If this loop whole means the government collects $126 million less, then they need to spend $126 million less. No different if your employer cuts your wages, you need to cut your spending.

    But I do agree that there should not be a loop hole for race horses on the simple grounds that there should be no special interest loop holes. That nasty little 14th amendment thing, equality.

    Alan Simpson was a dolt in Congress and hasn’t changed a bit.