Tax Expenditures: The $1.2 Trillion Sieve

SieveOver the years, Congress has made a number of exceptions in the tax code, ostensibly to encourage certain behavior by certain individuals or corporations. For example, homeowners can deduct from their federal income taxes the interest paid on their mortgage. Health insurance as a benefit by employers are not taxed as individual income. Had the federal government not allowed the mortgage interest deduction or employer-provide health insurance exemption, the Treasury would have seen about $184 billion (67.0 and 116.8, respectively) in more revenues in 2008 than it did.

These are but two examples of the nearly 200 loopholes, deductions, exemptions, or credits that are built into the federal tax code. Collectively known as "tax expenditures," they are estimated to total $1.16 trillion in 2009.

Last Friday (April 17), the New America Foundation hosted an event to explore the value of some of these tax expenditures.

With debate raging over the Obama administration’s budget and policy plans, last Friday the New America Foundation gathered experts from government, academia, and the business community to discuss the merits of using the tax code to dispense more than $700bn of social spending annually. The morning-long discussion, co-hosted by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, was titled “Tax Expenditures and Social Policy: Are We Getting Our Money’s Worth?” and focused on three of the largest tax expenditures: the health care premium exclusion, the home mortgage interest deduction, and the retirement plan exclusion.

Pop on over to the event page for video, mp3, and other information.

Image by Flickr user zeitengewimmel used under a Creative Commons license.

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