The looming political showdown over raising the federal debt ceiling has generated a seemingly endless stream of punditry over winners and losers, key players versus back-benchers, and on-again, off-again "grand compromises." But beneath those ever-shifting currents lie bedrock fiscal issues: how to slow the pace of federal expenditures, reestablish long-term budgetary discipline, and reform our uncompetitive tax system without heaping heavier burdens on businesses or individuals. In their quest for a staggering $2.4 trillion debt increase, President Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill have weighed in with many responses to those issues - some good, more than a few bad, and some downright ugly.
Sitting firmly in the "ugly" category is a scheme that would do nothing to cut spending, fly in the face of responsible fiscal policy, and worsen an already mucked-up Tax Code all at once. As a precondition to a debt-ceiling deal, the Administration and some Democratic lawmakers seek to eliminate so-called "subsidies" for the five largest oil and gas companies in America. Left out of their rhetoric is an inconvenient fact: the key elements of the plan involve taking away the very same tax provisions available to other industries. One, the Section 199 deduction, is extended to a wide variety of firms for domestic production activity, while another, the dual capacity credit, shields firms with operations abroad from being double-taxed.
Why create special legislation that punishes only the five largest oil companies? Because it's politically convenient. The firms have recently been posting large profits, and all too many officials in Washington abide by the mantra, "the more you make, the faster we'll take it." This kind of policymaking-by-mood-swings on the part of Congress prompts the question: if Senators and Representatives can pass a law attacking a handful of energy companies, how long before lawmakers target a few companies they deem "excessively profitable" in technology, food, manufacturing, or some other industry? And, how long before these firms, fearing the whims of tax-writers, take their investments and jobs somewhere else?