Tom Coburn: Tax Subsidies Are Socialism

Give Sen. Tom Coburn(R-OK) credit. In a city where obfuscation and misdirection are the coin of the realm, the conservative Republican lets you know exactly where he stands. While most of his party remains mired in its  “job-killing tax increase” rhetoric, Coburn has no misgivings about eliminating tax subsidies and using the money to reduce the deficit.  His new budget plan, “Back in the Black” would scale back these deductions and credits by $1 trillion over a decade.

And in doing so, Coburn didn’t mince words:

“Tax expenditures are not tax cuts. Tax expenditures are socialism and corporate welfare. Tax expenditure are increases on anyone who does not receive the benefit or can’t hire a lobbyist…to manipulate the code to their favor.”   

Unlike most pols of both parties, who blast tax expenditures in general but refuse to name names, Coburn has a list. In fact, he has 60 pages of details on the tax subsidies he’d deep-six. He targets two of the most controversial: the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance and the mortgage interest deduction. And he takes aim at a wide range of tax breaks for economic development and energy production.

Coburn’s plan for $9 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases isn’t going anywhere. It is much too ambitious for almost anyone else in Washington and the spending cuts are far too deep. Slashing spending by $8 trillion over a decade would result in draconian reductions in government programs, including important strands of the social safety net for those who need help the most.  

But on taxes, he’s mostly looking in the right places. Among his proposals:

Cap the deduction on mortgage interest for primary residences and eliminate it for second homes.

Cap the exclusion on the value of employer-sponsored medical insurance.

Eliminate a range of tax breaks for production of alternative fuels and the purchase of energy efficient products, as well as some tax credits for the production of oil and gas.

Repeal a range of subsidies aimed at encouraging development in certain designated neighborhoods, such as empowerment zones and renewal communities.

Limit eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit to just five years.

Abolish a bunch of industry-specific tax breaks for railroads, agriculture, tackle box makers, NASCAR, dog and horse tracks, etc. etc.

Overall, Coburn is on target. My own list would differ from his, as, I am sure, would yours.  For instance, I don’t like his EITC proposal. And I don’t  buy his socialism label (this word has become far too cheap in our political lexicon).

But the point is that Coburn has a list. Unlike those lawmakers who vote for a balanced budget Constitutional amendment that can neither pass nor succeed, or those lawmakers who support deep, but unspecified, loophole-closers, Coburn puts his cards on the table. And sooner or later, if Congress is going to get serious about deficit reduction, his colleagues must do the same.