Digging Into the Big Subsidies and Tax Breaks
Let's begin with the subsidies. Of the subsidies shown above, 93% come from Social Security benefits provided to millionaires. Really, the other items in that top box are virtually insignificant from a budgetary standpoint.
The first three tax breaks are much larger, however. They make up 99% of the sum of the breaks shown, making the others negligible. So let's focus on these four items, as the other nine items would only provide an additional $417 million in revenue (0.03% of the 2009 deficit).
Social Security Retirement Benefits
The idea of means testing Social Security is not a new one. From a practical standpoint, it makes sense to deny wealthier Americans their Social Security benefits. After all, they don't need them. But in principle, if these Americans dutifully paid into Social Security for decades, probably often at the maximum contribution rate, then they should be entitled to collect this money. An additional $1.5 billion in revenue attained by compromising the legitimacy of Social Security might not be sensible when that money could easily be brought in by a slightly higher tax rate on wealthy Americans.
Mortgage Interest Deduction
Arguing in favor of the mortgage interest deduction for wealthy Americans is a pretty tough thing to do. In fact, you could easily argue that it should be eliminated for all Americans. Unfortunately, Congress is having trouble even convincing itself to allow conforming limits for mortgage guarantees to fall to $625,500. So reforming the mortgage interest deduction won't be easy.
Rental Expenses Deduction
This one is tougher. If you assume that renting out property that you own is a legitimate business, then shouldn't landlords be able to deduct expenses just like other businesses do? Moreover, a clear worry here is that rents will increase if this deduction is eliminated. If the costs involved with renting out a space can't be deducted from taxes, then they will fall on the shoulders of renters instead. Considering that Americans who rent are often poorer than those who own a home, eliminating this deduction could have an undesired consequence of making it harder for relatively poorer Americans.
Gambling Losses Deducted
How can anyone justify this deduction? Its existence is bizarre. Why should gambling losses be deducted from taxes? Gambling is a leisure activity that often involves a cost. It is not a legitimate investment strategy. Since gambling involves winning and losing, the logic must go that only net income should be taxed. So we're talking about gross losses here, as net losses cannot be deducted from other income. Coburn's assertion must be to tax gross winnings instead of net winnings. The logistics here could be difficult -- after playing blackjack for four hours at a casino, how do you know what your gross losses are?*