Senate bailout bill hits the Internet; Update: File added; Update: Not earmarks?

posted at 10:24 am on October 1, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

The Senate will begin debate within minutes on their attempt to revive the bailout bill rejected by the House.  They have released the bill text this morning, and the Senate Conservatives Fund website has it for public perusal.  The new version has no allocations going to the Housing Trust Fund, which the Dodd version originally did, so ACORN will get no money from the bailout.

However, the Senate did add a few winners to this new version:

New Tax earmarks in Bailout bill
- Film and Television Productions (Sec. 502)
- Wooden Arrows designed for use by children (Sec. 503)
- 6 page package of earmarks for litigants in the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident, Alaska (Sec. 504)

Tax earmark “extenders” in the bailout bill.
- Virgin Island and Puerto Rican Rum (Section 308)
- American Samoa (Sec. 309)
- Mine Rescue Teams (Sec. 310)
- Mine Safety Equipment (Sec. 311)
- Domestic Production Activities in Puerto Rico (Sec. 312)
- Indian Tribes (Sec. 314, 315)
- Railroads (Sec. 316)
- Auto Racing Tracks (317)
- District of Columbia  (Sec. 322)
- Wool Research (Sec. 325)

I love the auto racing tracks in particular.  I can see the headlines now: “Global financial markets melt down, NASCAR, Caribbean rum hardest hit”.  As many people have said now, I’d be more inclined to take this crisis seriously if people on the Hill didn’t use it to butter up their favored constituencies.

The Senate will vote at around 7:35 PM tonight on this bill.  I’d expect an easier passage, thanks to provisions to expand FDIC insurance and an added authority to suspend mark-to-market rules that may make some of the rest of this bill unnecessary.  Senate leadership isn’t taking any chances; they’ve added this as an amendment to a bill containing some legislation sought by both liberals and conservatives, making it difficult to oppose from any direction.

Update: My friend Sean from Everything I Know Is Wrong returns to blogging on this issue, and takes issue with Arianna Huffington’s analysis of the crisis.  We need more people pushing back on the notion that a lack of government action caused this collapse; it was a government distortion of lending and investment sectors that caused the problem.  But to the extent that government inaction contributed to it, it’s good to recall exactly who the obstructionists were.

Update II: Apparently the load on the SCF server has created some problems.  I’ve loaded the PDF file here.

Update III: I’m being told from multiple sources that the term “tax earmarks” is incorrect and misleading.  Americans for Tax Reform has sent out a memo explaining the difference (and note that the “Ed” in this does not refer to me but a staffer on the Hill):

The language Ed uses below here is very unhelpful and completely wrong from a fiscal conservative perspective.  There is no such thing as a “tax earmark.”  Earmarks are spending.  There are appropriations earmarks.  There are authorization earmarks.  There are no “tax earmarks.”  To claim that there are puts tax deductions and credits (which is what we’re talking about here) on the same par as bridges to nowhere.  Was the creation of HSAs a “tax earmark?”  How about the home mortgage interest deduction?  One might call for lowering the rates and broadening the base, but we should not fall into the trap of equating tax cuts and spending increases.  That’s how some Senate Republicans got in such massive trouble over health care last year and energy this year vis-à-vis taxes.

This is precisely the same logic that Treasury’s Steve Surrey used in the 1960s to create the “tax expenditure” concept.  This faulty doctrine treats tax exclusions, adjustments, deductions, and credits as if they were the same as a federal appropriation.  They are not.  They might not be ideal tax policy, but they are federal revenue reductions—not budget increases.

I would exempt from my statement the outlay effects of refundable tax credits.  Those are, indeed, spending and could rightly be sullied with the term “earmark.”

I’m sorry to be so firm about this, but it’s this confusion between tax cuts and spending increases that I’ve found is the number one cause of well-meaning offices slipping into Taxpayer Protection Pledge violations.  When I see things communicated that would contribute to this confusion (and I know Ed meant no harm by it), I try to jump all over it.

So these are tax breaks, not earmarked spending.  Perhaps some of them are unwisely added to this bill, but this tax extenders bill passed the Senate with overwhelming support, including the anti-pork Tom Coburn.  It didn’t pass the House initially because of the lack of tax increases to accompany it through Pay-Go.


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