Targeted Tax Provisions Have a History Before AIG Bonus Tax

But Congress used to craft specific tax provisions to benefit individuals, not penalize them.

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People are shocked—shocked!—at the notion of using the tax code to punish a specific group, but it is not that hard to imagine. In fact it is keeping with another longtime congressional tradition: using the tax code to benefit a specific group in what used to be called "rifle shot" tax provisions.

They were called "rifle shots" because they would be written in such a way as to create a loophole so small that it would belong only to a specific group.

Jeffrey Birnbaum and Alan Murray recount several examples of these from the 1980s in their classic Showdown at Gucci Gulch. Some were buried in bills but written in plain language so one could tell its intended beneficiary. Others were more obscure, benefiting, for example, "an automobile manufacturer that was incorporated in Delaware on October 13, 1916" (General Motors) or "a mass-commuting facility that provides access to an international airport" (Dulles Airport) or "a binding contract entered into on October 20, 1984, for the purchase of six semi-submersible drilling units" (an Alabama firm called Sonat).

According to this Hill article, such provisions have, by informal agreement, been banned from tax bills. But given the history, it should not surprise anyone that tax bills might be crafted to punish rather than reward specific interests.

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