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Home > Politics
Tax Expenditure Entitlements
by Bob Powell, 10/22/16
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Much of what we're told about debt and government spending are lies
Truths about debt, government spending, and worker pay are lies
Tax Loopholes: The Holes are Bigger than the Loop
Three Major Categories of Spending
Tax Entitlements: Tax Expenditures are the REAL Entitlements
Policies that Drive Millions into Poverty
Policies that further enrich the Wealthy


Much of what we're told about debt, government spending, and worker pay are lies

  1. SNAP Benefits: Giving "food stamps" to the "takers" is busting the budget and that's got to stop. Besides, it makes them lazy and "dependent" on government.
  2. Worker Pay: If those who work for a wage are paid more, they won't work as hard. But the wealthy should be paid more to give them incentives to work harder.
  3. Government Spending is Too Great: There's no money for "free" education and subsidized health insurance because of profligate government spending.
  4. Taxed Too Much: You're "Taxed Enough Already" and taxes must be cut, especially for the "Job Creators".
  5. Corporate Taxes Too High: Corporations are taxed too much and leave the U.S. Besides they shouldn't be taxed at all, because ultimately people pay all taxes.
  6. Illegal Immigration: Illegal immigration has resulted in an invasion of workers into the United States. They're taking your jobs and they're a financial burden on the U.S. economy.
  7. U.S. Policy Should Be Austerity: It's "common sense". We've got so much federal debt that we've got to "tighten our belts" just like any household would have to do.

These are lies delivered to you by "conservative" politicians bought and paid for by the wealthy and corporations. So what is the truth?

Comparing Tax Expenditure Entitlements to Other Spending.
Truths about debt and government spending

  1. SNAP Benefits: "Food stamps" are $74.1B, a fraction of tax giveaways to the wealthy. Worse, it's the despicable "Don't Feed the Animals" argument pushed by "conservatives".
  2. Worker Pay: Unions and a minimum wage are absolutely necessary because U.S. policies drive wages to between zero and subsistence level. 
    The wealthy "takers" get plenty of incentives: 
    Tax Expenditures going to the top 1% are $203B, 2.7X SNAP benefits. the Top 20% and especially the Top 1%, that get lions share of the "free stuff" Tax Entitlements.
    The U.S. has tax policies that drive people into poverty and keep them there .... and make the wealthy even richer.
  3. Government Spending is Too Great: Tax Expenditures (Tax Break giveaways, aka "Tax Entitlements") are 10% greater than Discretionary Spending. Breaks for the Top 20% exceed military spending.
    Cut a fraction of that and there's plenty of funding for "free" education and subsidized health insurance (BTW, those with health insurance through their employer are subsidized because it's a tax deductible expense for the corporation).
    We should have Single Payer Health Insurance for a more efficient and effective system.
  4. Taxed Too Much: Those in the middle to bottom are not "Taxed Enough Already"; they're paid too little! U.S. policies have resulted in compensation being flat for 35+ years and the share of corporate taxes has
  5. Corporate Taxes Too High: Corporations' share of taxation has fallen drastically ... by two-thirds between 1952 and 2015 ... a 63 year period. Corporations must pay taxes to internalize the costs into their products and services in order that market forces function properly.
  6. Illegal Immigration: Illegal immigrants are in the U.S. because of Farm Subsidies and NAFTA wrecked the Mexican economy to deprive them of the means to make a living. Because it's the result of U.S. policy, blaming them for their plight is ignorant and cruel. 
    Poverty wages for farm workers are unnecessary. Shocking but true: farm workers could be paid at rates of $125,000/yr and $192,000/yr with price increases of 16 cents/lb and 12.3 cents/lb for tomatoes and Granny Smith apples, respectively.
  7. U.S. Policy Should Be Austerity: This is the epitome of ignorance because what applies to a household does not apply to a sovereign government that controls its currency. Besides, counter-cyclical spending is necessary to overcome an economic downturn. Increased austerity (cutting government spending) makes a downturn worse ... yes, that means Keynesian economic policies and not reducing deficits ... OMG!


Though I've known our economic system is enormously corrupt, even I found this shocking:

Congresswoman Who Used To Receive Welfare Wants To Drug Test Rich People Who Get Tax Breaks by Bryce Covert, ThinkProgress, 6/16/16

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) has had enough of the growing movement to drug test poor people who need government assistance. So on Tuesday, she's introducing a bill that she says will make things fairer.

Her "Top 1% Accountability Act" would require anyone claiming itemized tax deductions of over $150,000 in a given year to submit a clean drug test. If a filer doesn't submit a clean test within three months of filing, he won't be able to take advantage of tax deductions like the mortgage interest deduction or health insurance tax breaks. Instead he would have to make use of the standard deduction. ...

Moore has been frustrated to witness attempts to tie those who avail themselves of the safety net to drug use. "Republicans continue to criminalize poverty and to put forward the narrative, the false narrative in fact, that people who are poor and reliant upon the social safety net are drug users," she said.

In fact, evidence from test results among states that test welfare recipients indicates that they are no more likely to use drugs than the general population - in fact, they may be less likely.

That didn't stop House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) from using a drug rehab center as the backdrop while he unveiled his poverty plan last week. "I think this is what tipped me over the edge," Moore said, "rolling out his poverty initiative in front of a drug treatment program to sort of drive that false narrative forward." ...

"People who take tax deductions and particularly those in the top 1 percent...are not entitled to anything." But they still benefit from a large pot of government money. The government loses about $900 billion in revenue to tax expenditures every year, which mostly flow to the wealthy. ...

Related: Michigan welfare drug screening program nets zero hits by Jonathan Oosting, Detroit News Lansing Bureau 12/3/16

Here's who gets the biggest tax breaks, in one chart (okay, six) By Dylan Matthews, Washington Post, 5/30/13

Here's the headline: the 10 major expenditures examined in the report cost the government $900 billion this year and will cost almost $12 trillion over the decade to come. That's more than Medicare, defense or Social Security.

So who's getting all this money? The affluent, for the most part. Nearly half of the budgetary cost of the expenditures went to people in the top income quintile, which, for a family of four, means families making over $162,800 a year pre-tax: ...


The tax break state By Mike Konczal, Washington Post, 6/1/13

... Luckily, the CBO released a major report this week breaking down tax expenditures (which is the boring, but more precise, term for tax breaks). Wonkblog's Dylan Matthews already went through the major charts of the report (with other, slower Web sites catching up later). But to get a sense of the size and importance of these things, consider this: The top 10 tax expenditures total about $900 billion a year. Over half of them go to the top 20 percent of households. About a third go to the top 1 percent. ...


Categories of Government Spending
Tax Loopholes: The Holes are Bigger than the Loop

Because government does the bidding of the wealthy and corporations, the holes are 10%  bigger than the loop.

The tax system has been so corrupted that what's "legal" to avoid taxes has incredibly expanded. In fairness, the legal avoidance tactics that allow this are not all "loopholes", that is, they're not all ways to avoid taxes that weren't intended. They're designed-in "features", not "bugs".

Quick Facts: ***image24***

Tax Expenditures are 10% greater that ALL Discretionary Spending funded by income taxes ... that's $1.22T vs $1.11 Trillion! WTF???

Over half of Tax Expenditures go to the top 20% ... 50.6% or $617B.

Tax Expenditures going to the top 20% are greater than military spending, which is $599B and 54% of Discretionary Spending! WTF???

16.6% of Tax Expenditures go to the top 1% ($203B); that's over twice the 7.7% ($94B) that goes to the bottom 20%

Tax Expenditures going to the top 20% ($617B) are 8.3X larger than SNAP Benefits ($74.1B)

Tax Expenditures going to the top 1% are ($203B) are 2.7X SNAP benefits ($74.1B)

Tax Expenditures ($1.22T) are 16.5X SNAP Benefits ($74.1B)


        Three Major Categories of Spending: Discretionary, Mandatory, and Tax Expenditures.

        Unless otherwise noted the federal spending data comes from Federal Spending: Where Does the Money Go, Federal Budget 101'.

        Discretionary Spending, $1.11 Trillion: The income tax pays for discretionary spending and interest on national debt. The largest share, 54% of  discretionary spending, goes for "defense". As shown in the 2nd pie chart, three percent of discretionary spending goes for SS, Unemployment & Labor (most of the SS spending is in the Mandatory category).

        Mandatory Spending, $2.45 Trillion: There are separate federal payroll tax income streams that pay for mandatory spending on Social Security and Medicare. Though these taxes are very regressive, the surpluses in these programs are "borrowed" to help pay for federal discretionary spending.

        Tax Expenditures, $1.22 Trillion: These are Tax Breaks for corporations and individuals. Tax Breaks in the tax code permit Tax Avoidance.

        Tax Entitlements: Tax Expenditures are the REAL Entitlements

        While Discretionary Spending must be voted on in budgets every year, Tax Expenditures put in the tax code by Congress are not voted on every year. Hidden-spending, Tax Expenditures are essentially entitlements that last forever unless rescinded by Congress!

        In fact, former Federal Reserve Board Chair Alan Greenspan referred to tax expenditures as "tax entitlements".

        No one who gets these "free stuff" giveaways has paid for them!

        Trump & Pence see these as entitlements:

        Evidence: Pence's question in the Vice-Presidential debate with Kaine ...

        PENCE: "Senator, do you take all the deductions that you're entitled to?"

        Evidence: In the third debate Donald Trump is clear that he's entitled to them ...

        Trump: "We're entitled because of the laws that people like her passed to take massive amounts of depreciation and other charges, and we do it."

        He's the quintessential Welfare Queen. He's going to "Drain the Swamp"? No. Trump has been the epitome of a "Swamp Dweller" his entire life.

        A Trump Empire Built on Inside Connections and $885 Million in Tax Breaks

        ... Mr. Trump has reaped at least $885 million in tax breaks, grants and other subsidies for luxury apartments, hotels and office buildings in New York, according to city tax, housing and finance records. The subsidies helped him lower his own costs and sell apartments at higher prices because of their reduced taxes.

        Mr. Trump, the Republican nominee for president, has made clear over the course of his campaign how proud he is that "as a businessman I want to pay as little tax as possible."

        While it is impossible to assess how much Mr. Trump pays in personal or corporate income taxes, because he has refused to release his tax returns, an examination of his record as a New York developer shows how aggressively he has fought to lower the taxes on his projects. ...


        Social Security Insurance and Medicare Benefits are called Entitlements

        That's because wage-earners have paid for them and are "entitled" to them.

        Tax Loopholes: Holes bigger than the Loop!

        Note: Tax Expenditures are 10% larger than ALL Discretionary Spending!

        The Tax Expenditure Hole -- $1.22 Trillion -- is bigger than the Discretionary Spending Loop -- $1.11 Trillion!

        But please, express again your outrage over federal debt because of "free stuff" like "food stamps"
        (Tax Expenditures are
        16.5X larger than SNAP Benefits of $74.1B)


        ... But it's not only by "her", but by "conservatives" of all stripes doing the bidding of their corporate masters, and Trump has no plan to do anything about tax entitlements. In fact ...

        Trump's Defense of His Tax Avoidance Is Getting Even More Brazen By Helaine Olen, Slate, 10/20/16

        ... Trump, who conveniently didn't say whether he thinks his income tax avoidance was a problem, even though he's criticized much less fortunate Americans for doing the same: His tax plan, according to many analysts, would actually increase the tax breaks available to real estate honchos like himself. Deplorable. ...

        Spending Lowlights Summary:


        Note: The tax system has been so corrupted that what's "legal" to avoid taxes has incredibly expanded. In fairness, the legal avoidance tactics that allow this are not all "loopholes", that is, they're not all ways to avoid taxes that weren't intended. They're designed-in "features", not "bugs".

        Self-described "conservatives" against Social Security and Medicare love to put Mandatory Spending on the same pie chart with Discretionary Spending because it misleads the public on what the problem is. But you'll *never* see them put Tax Expenditures that are 110% of *all* Discretionary Spending (and 200% of Military Spending) on the chart with Discretionary Spending.

        Military Spending Summary:

        This means that the top 20% get Tax Breaks of over $610B
        Military expenditures are 54% of Discretionary Spending: $598B .
        Tax breaks for the top 20% exceed military spending!

        So there's Enormous Welfare for the wealthy while we've this:

        The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's 5th Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress estimated that 1.56 million people, or one in every 200 Americans, experienced homelessness and found shelter between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009.

        But no, it's the "takers" with the lowest incomes who are the problem.

        SNAP Benefits ("food stamps") Summary:

        ***image22***SNAP benefits cost $74.1 billion in fiscal year 2014 and supplied roughly 46.5 million Americans with an average of $125.35 for each person per month in food assistance.  
        Compare that to $1.22 Trillion total Tax Expenditures ... 16.5X larger than SNAP Benefits
        Compare that to Tax Expenditures [tax breaks] going to those in the top 1% of income: $203 Billion ... 2.7X the $74.1B in SNAP Benefits


        The first pie chart shows how much federal spending is Discretionary, Mandatory, and Interest on Federal Debt
        from Federal Spending: Where Does the Money Go, Federal Budget 101'.

        The second pie chart shows the Discretionary Spending breakdown.

        Note that the great majority of that is on "defense" and Veterans Benefits ... that is, for war and empire. But that's not all of it; spending on Nuclear Weapons is buried in the Energy Department.

        The third pie chart shows the Mandatory Spending breakdown.

        Medicare and Social Security are federal programs that are almost wholly funded through regressive payroll taxes, an income stream that's separate from progressive income taxes. Regressive payroll taxes fall hardest on those with lower incomes because they are deducted from the very first dollar of pay with no exemptions and because those with incomes higher than the $118,500 cap in 2016 pay no tax on income over the cap.

        Medicare provides health care coverage for senior citizens and the disabled. Social Security (officially it's the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program) is meant to ensure that elderly and disabled people do not live in poverty.

        National debt has nothing at all to do with spending on SS and Medicare. The surpluses in those programs have been used to offset excess general fund Discretionary Spending that has led to enormous debt. Somehow, while borrowing from SS and Medicare surpluses, federal debt is blamed on SS and Medicare. This turns reality on its head and it's the epitome of false propaganda that so many believe these two programs must be cut.

        The propagandists even say that what they call, unfunded liabilities, are $128 Trillion.

        ***image12***For example:

        Does the United States have $128 trillion in unfunded liabilities? By Glenn Kessler October 23, 2013

        "We have $128 trillion worth of unfunded liabilities and the total net worth of our country is $94 trillion and we have another $17 trillion worth of debt."
        - Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Oct. 20, 2013

        It's a lie! Primarily because SS and Medicare, by law, cannot run deficits as explained here:

        Is Our Debt Burden Really $100 Trillion? by DEREK THOMPSON, The Atlantic, 12/28/12

        ... Our $16 trillion in debt and our $87 trillion in "unfunded liabilities" represent two very different ideas: real past promises and projected future promises. Real past promises are, well, very real. We have to pay back our debt. Failing to do it would be an illegal and disastrous default. Unfunded liabilities are future promises, and, since they're not as real, we can change them whenever we want without destroying ourselves. For example, raising the taxable income ceiling and slowing the growth of benefits could reduce the Social Security gap to zero tomorrow.

        And that's if there is a Social Security "gap" to begin with. Technically, it's not legal for Social Security to have "unfunded liabilities" since it can only pay as many benefits as it receives in earmarked taxes. Both it and Medicare hospital insurance are prohibited from spending money they haven't collected from specific revenue dedicated to their programs (i.e.: payroll taxes). It is impossible for either to technically be "unfunded", since they cannot legally outspend their funding. ...

        75-year projections are scarier than they are informative. ... When Republicans say unfunded liabilities come out to $520,000 per U.S. household, they're taking a figure from 2087 and dividing it over a 2012 population to exaggerate. Scary, to be sure, but not very informative. ...

        Note that such an exaggerated, essentially fictional, number for unfunded liabilities is said (by many perporting to be concerned about debt) to be equally the responsibility of all families, rich and poor alike, even though the income and wealth of families is vastly unequal. So equality for debt, but inequality for income and wealth. Excellent.

        Right-wing extremists, like those at the Peterson Institute, will say anything in their efforts to privatize and loot Social Security and Medicare.

        ***image13***The Big Lie at the Core of Pete Peterson's Attack on the Baby Boomers by William Black, New Economic Perspectives (Modern Monetary Theory, MMT, Perspective), 7/10/14

        ... Pete Peterson, in his never ending quest to privatize Social Security and make Wall Street even wealthier, is sending groups to campuses trying to convince college students that their parents are the enemy and that austerity and privatization are their only means of staving off poverty. The reality, as Makovsky is stressing to bankers is the opposite of Peterson's propaganda.

        Looting Social Security By William Greider, The Nation, 2/11/09
        Behind closed doors, advocates of entitlement reform are pushing Obama to tap the Social Security surplus to pay for bank bailouts. It could be a defining test for new politics in the Obama era.

        Governing elites in Washington and Wall Street have devised a fiendishly clever "grand bargain" they want President Obama to embrace in the name of "fiscal responsibility." The government, they argue, having spent billions on bailing out the banks, can recover its costs by looting the Social Security system. They are also targeting Medicare and Medicaid. The pitch sounds preposterous to millions of ordinary working people anxious about their economic security and worried about their retirement years. But an impressive armada is lined up to push the idea-Washington's leading think tanks, the prestige media, tax-exempt foundations, skillful propagandists posing as economic experts and a self-righteous billionaire spending his fortune to save the nation from the elderly.

        These players are promoting a tricky way to whack Social Security benefits, but to do it behind closed doors so the public cannot see what's happening or figure out which politicians to blame. The essential transaction would amount to misappropriating the trillions in Social Security taxes that workers have paid to finance their retirement benefits. This swindle is portrayed as "fiscal reform." In fact, it's the political equivalent of bait-and-switch fraud.

        Defending Social Security sounds like yesterday's issue-the fight people won when they defeated George W. Bush's attempt to privatize the system in 2005. But the financial establishment has pushed it back on the table, claiming that the current crisis requires "responsible" leaders to take action. Will Obama take the bait? Surely not. The new president has been clear and consistent about Social Security, as a candidate and since his election. The program's financing is basically sound, he has explained, and can be assured far into the future by making only modest adjustments.

        But Obama is also playing footsie with the conservative advocates of "entitlement reform" (their euphemism for cutting benefits). The president wants the corporate establishment's support on many other important matters, and he recently promised to hold a "fiscal responsibility summit" to examine the long-term costs of entitlements. That forum could set the trap for a "bipartisan compromise" that may become difficult for Obama to resist, given the burgeoning deficit. If he resists, he will be denounced as an old-fashioned free-spending liberal. The advocates are urging both parties to hold hands and take the leap together, authorizing big benefits cuts in a circuitous way that allows them to dodge the public's blame. In my new book, Come Home, America, I make the point: "When official America talks of ‘bipartisan compromise,' it usually means the people are about to get screwed." ...

        Amen! "When official America talks of ‘bipartisan compromise,' it usually means the people are about to get screwed."

        This is true whenever Democrats collude with Republicans: be assured you're going to be screwed. This has been the case with NAFTA, the creation and expansion of the World Trade Organization, the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that abolished the Glass-Steagall Act, the telecommunications deregulation (1996 Telecom Act), and the recent Trans Pacific Partnership Fast Track.

        Obama would have colluded with Republicans in a Grand Bargain that would have cut future SS and Medicare benefits, but  right-wing, Tea Party extremists were against any compromise. Irony: we were saved from these proposed cuts by the anti-government extremists.

        The fourth chart, a bar chart, shows Tax Expenditures

        ***image14***This chart is also from Federal Spending: Where Does the Money Go, Federal Budget 101'.

        When the federal government spends money on mandatory and discretionary programs, the U.S. Treasury writes a check to pay the program costs. But there is another type of federal spending that operates a little differently. Lawmakers have written hundreds of tax breaks into the federal tax code - for instance, special low tax rates on capital gains, and a deduction for home mortgage interest - in order to promote certain activities they deem beneficial to society.

        In fact, tax breaks function as a type of government spending, and they are officially called "tax expenditures" within the federal government. When the government issues a tax break, it chooses to give up tax revenue for a specific purpose - so both spending and tax breaks mean less money in the U.S. Treasury, and both reflect spending priorities laid out by Congress in various pieces of legislation. ...

        Unlike discretionary spending, which must be approved by lawmakers each year during the appropriations process, tax breaks do not require annual approval. Once written into the tax code, they remain on the books until lawmakers modify them. That means that even when tax breaks fall short of, or outlive their original purpose intended by Congress, they frequently stay on the books.

        Fascinating! Tax Expenditures, that is tax breaks, are 10% greater than all total discretionary spending! They're enormous. While budgets for Discretionary Spending must be voted on every year, tax breaks in the tax code are not voted on every year.


        This chart also shows the top 20% get Tax Breaks that are 50.6% of all Tax Expenditures: $617B ... more than $598.5B in Military Expenditures.

        Who benefits most? Those with higher incomes who whine about their "tax burden", of course. So, please? Tell us again about your outrage over the $74.1B in SNAP Benefits.

        ***image15***So, one should ask, where is the bulk of the federal "spending problem"? The answer: on Defense Spending (aka, Offense) and on Tax Expenditures.


        Additional Benefits for the Wealthy

        Aside from the hundreds of billions in Tax Entitlements that go to the wealthy, what else allows such vast concentration of wealth.

        Bank Bailouts: When government spent $7 Trillion to bail out the banks, who were they bailing out? The wealthy who had deposits in the banks. For damn sure it wasn't those with lower incomes.

        Labor Market Manipulation: The Federal Reserve's NAIRU Target Policy that's a major driver of low wages and noted at the link below.

        Tax Policy: U.S. policies that drive people into poverty and keep them there and make the wealthy even richer.


        The Result of Tax Breaks and Tax Policies that Benefit the Enormously Wealthy

        Super Rich Hide $21 Trillion Offshore, Study Says, by Frederick E. Allen, Forbes Leadership Editor, 7/23/12

        new report finds that around the world the extremely wealthy have accumulated at least $21 trillion in secretive offshore accounts. That’s a sum equal to the gross domestic products of the United States and Japan added together. The number may sound unbelievable, but the study was conducted by James Henry, former chief economist at the consultancy McKinsey, an expert on tax havens and offshoring. It was commissioned by Tax Justice Network, a British activist group.

        According to an early report on the study in The Guardian, Henry’s research

        shows that at least £13tn [$21 trillion] – perhaps up to £20tn [$31 trillion] – has leaked out of scores of countries into secretive jurisdictions such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands with the help of private banks, which vie to attract the assets of so-called high net-worth individuals. Their wealth is, as Henry puts it, “protected by a highly paid, industrious bevy of professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries taking advantage of the increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy“. According to Henry’s research, the top 10 private banks, which include UBS and Credit Suisse in Switzerland, as well as the US investment bank Goldman Sachs, managed more than £4tn [$6.2 trillion] in 2010, a sharp rise from £1.5tn five years earlier.

        The report’s analysis, based on data from many sources including the Bank of International Settlements and the International Monetary Fund, indicates that enough money has left some developing countries since the 1970s to pay off all their debts to the rest of the world. “The problem here is that the assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments,” the report says.Money has especially flowed out of oil producing states. Some $700 billion has left Russia since the 1990s: $305 billion has flowed out of Saudi Arabia since the 1970s, and about the same amount from Nigeria.

        Henry calculates that some 92,000 people, a thousandth of a percent of the world’s population, control $9.8 trillion, and that if all the $21 trillion that has been offshored earned 3% a year and were taxed at 30%, it would raise $188 billion in revenues, more than rich countries spend on aid to the developing world every year.


        URL: http://www.exponentialimprovement.com/cms/taxexpenditureentitlements.shtml

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