Cotton and rice farmers have come to think of Sen. Charles Grassley as a pretty tough customer because of his attempts to tighten payment limits at a time when farm programs have been the only thing standing between some of them and bankruptcy.
But even cotton and rice farmers might have been a little taken aback by a recent quote attributed to the Iowa Republican after Congress passed the much-criticized corporate tax bill. Among many other things, the bill includes language that bars deductions for the donation of automobiles to charities.
Stung by criticism of the provision, Grassley said he hoped the change will shut down “billions of dollars in tax shelters and shady tax practices.” He also criticized charities for “thinking it's all right for someone to cheat on his taxes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars as long as the charity gets $50 out of it.”
This comes, mind you, after Grassley helped write a bill that gives an estimated $77 billion in tax breaks to U.S. manufacturing companies and another $43 billion in reductions for U.S. companies with overseas operations.
The staff of the Senate Finance Committee, which Grassley chairs, later said ending the ability to deduct the “fair market value” of the donated vehicle will add $2.4 billion in government revenue over the next 10 years. (Owners will still be able to deduct the actual sales price of the automobile.)
The corporate tax bill — American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 — began as an attempt to address a World Trade Organization panel ruling that the Foreign Sales Corporation/Extra-Territorial Initiative provisions in the U.S. tax code were an illegal export subsidy.
The European Union complained that allowing U.S. companies, including grain and cotton merchandising operations, to bring profits from foreign sales into the United States at a lower tax rate allowed U.S. crops to be sold at lower prices.
Farm organizations worked for months to try to change the law to avert the imposition of tariff duties on U.S. exports to the EU that began in March, but it didn't begin to gain traction until someone decided the bill could become a vehicle for other changes to the tax code.
When it passed, the bill offered tax breaks to hundreds of companies and products, including an end to tariffs on imported ceiling fans, which Grassley reportedly agreed to at the request of Georgia Sen. Zell Miller. (Home Depot, which sells thousands of ceiling fans annually, is headquartered in Atlanta.)
Proponents claim the tax “savings” will be paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes and eliminating obsolete corporate tax breaks. It's difficult to imagine how you can increase tax revenues by ending tax breaks no one uses, but that seems to be typical of the “smoke and mirrors” budget writing in Congress.
Meanwhile, the next time you hear someone complaining about government payments to “wealthy farmers,” just point them to Sen. Grassley's new tax bill.