Pete Sepp is executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union.
Washington would be well served to revisit Webster's dictionary from time to time. In particular, politicians' understanding of the term "fair" often seems to fall far off the mark. Merriam-Webster's best-fitting online definition of "fair" in the context of policymaking—"marked by impartiality and honesty: free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism"—provides a reality check.
Tuesday, for instance, the White House is hosting a Department of Energy-led seminar for corporations on investing in renewable energy schemes through tax equity financing. Instead of being "free from self-interest," this event provides the latest illustration of the manipulative, politicized carrot-and-stick capitalism we've witnessed from this administration, particularly in the energy sphere.
Need another example? Look no further than the campaign trail and President Obama's promotion of a tax deduction known as "Section 199."
This portion of the tax law has been in existence since 2004 and is broadly available—used by U.S.-based corporations ranging from movie studios to auto manufacturers, from newspaper publishers to microbreweries. In fact, Reuters reporter Kim Dixon notes "the deduction has become so deeply embedded in the economy that one-third of corporate activity qualifies for it, the Congressional Research Service said in a report last month."
The wide applicability of this provision only makes the unfairness prevalent in the Obama administration's new corporate tax plan that much more apparent. Though the president wants to double Section 199 (currently 9 percent) for "advanced manufacturing," he is pushing to wipe it out entirely just for American oil and natural gas firms. This hardly seems "free from … prejudice, or favoritism."
The tremendous job loss that would occur as a result of the president's energy tax policies would be acutely felt not only by the families of those who join the ranks of the unemployed. Indeed, millions of Americans would suffer unnecessarily under even bigger fuel price shocks, which would be the result of politics rather than economics. It's difficult to comprehend how this kind of shared misery amounts to the benign "impartiality" most people hope for when they see the word "fair."
In the final analysis, perhaps Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary makes a useful companion to Webster's venerable contribution toward our understanding of language … at least when Washington's political class begins to chatter.