INFLUENCE GAME: Tax them, not us, groups say
Interest groups, like many politicians, talk warmly of compromise in the abstract. But they dig in when the talk turns to specific ideas that run counter to their philosophies or profitability.
"There has to be give" in the negotiations, said Jade West, who heads the decade-old Tax Relief Coalition, comprised of major business groups. But on the question of raising tax rates on the rich — probably the most-discussed issue on the fiscal cliff table — West said her group is adamantly opposed.
"I don't care what he said," she said of Obama's campaigning on the topic. "The sound bite, 'tax the rich, tax the rich, tax the rich'" ignores the harm such a policy would do, she said.
"Taxing the people who hire is just nuts," West said.
AARP is equally firm in opposing changes to Social Security and Medicare, the mammoth "entitlement" programs that economists say must be reined in soon to avoid disastrously large deficits in future years.
Seventeen months ago, AARP showed more flexibility. Its policy chief said the group would consider modest cuts in Social Security for future retirees, noting that such changes seem all but inevitable at some point. AARP members complained, the official left, and the organization resumed the stance it holds today: no reductions in Social Security or Medicare benefits.
Itemized tax deductions are another area where Democrats and Republicans are looking for possible ways to generate more government revenue. Here, too, powerful lobbying groups are rallying to oppose any changes that would cost their members money.
The home mortgage interest deduction saves borrowers $99 billion a year in taxes, making it easier to buy and sell houses. Should even a small portion of that tax break be eliminated, perhaps for the richest people, to help reduce federal borrowing?
No, says Jerry Howard, chief executive of the National Association of Home Builders. Home owners suffered huge losses in personal wealth during the recent collapse of the housing market and the sector should be spared any further dings, he said.
"While the rest of the nation was in a recession, we were in a depression," he said. "Congress should be embarrassed" to even think of asking homeowners to help pay for a fiscal crisis that lawmakers brought on themselves through years of inaction, he added.
It's the same tune at universities and other institutions that rely on charitable gifts. They want to fully exempt the charitable gift deduction, which costs the government about $51 billion a year, from a role in the fiscal cliff talks.
"We urge you and House leaders not to impose any limits or caps to the charitable deduction," the Charitable Giving Coalition said in a recent letter to Boehner and others.
Like other interest groups, this one says it has special attributes that set it apart.
"The charitable deduction is different than other itemized deductions in that it encourages individuals to give away a portion of their income to those in need," the letter said.
And so it goes, group by group, tax break by tax break, payout by payout. Everyone is special. Everyone is deserving.
Follow Charles Babington on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cbabington.
An occasional look at how behind-the-scenes influence is exercised in Washington.
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