11 Pages Posted: 6 May 2014
Date Written: April 24, 2014
In Tax Legislation in the Contemporary U.S. Congress, Michael Doran describes an equilibrium of gridlock punctuated by the occasional passage of strikingly clean, non-particularistic legislation. This Commentary explores how the mundane, unseemly, and largely unnoticed legislative ritual of extending tax breaks that are set to expire — through bills known as “tax extenders” — fits into the picture. Renewal of the tax extenders package is frequent and highly particularistic, and so at first glance seems to contradict Professor Doran’s narrative. But extenders may, in fact, enable the gridlock that Doran describes. The extenders package allows members of the tax-writing committees to shape tax policy in small, incremental ways, to raise campaign funds, and to quietly pay favors to well-connected industries — all without unduly disrupting the “standing on principle” that created gridlock in the first place.
The practice of regularly renewing the extenders package is unfortunate and should be stopped. It distorts the budget process, encourages legislative rent seeking, and invites highly particularistic legislative provisions that are better characterized as windfalls and wasteful government spending rather than well-targeted tax incentives.
Keywords: tax, tax legislative process, public choice, budget, tax expenditures
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