In the March 8th Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria proposes three solutions to the debt crisis in “Defusing the Debt Bomb.”
His second proposal was to “end the massive , distorting subsidies for homeownership, healthcare, and agriculture.” I agree with him.
Canada and Britain have no home mortgage deduction and they have a higher rate of home ownership. Our mortgage tax deduction was the result of using the tax code for social tinkering, in this case to encourage home ownership. The home mortgage deduction is regressive, giving a bigger tax deduction to the wealthier with more expensive housing.
Health care is also distorted by the tax deduction. We are actually encouraged to have too much first dollar coverage. Obama tried to address this is in some limited way with the tax on Cadillac plans and this was one of the few parts of the bill I liked. Removing the tax preference for employer controlled coverage would be a critical step toward restoring control of health insurance to the individual and get the employer out of it completely.
Farm subsidies are just ridiculous relics from the Great Depression. Obama spoke of eliminating such programs, but he lacks the ability to sell it after the poor way he handled health care.
Elimination of these tax subsidies may have to be gradual. Such radical shifts especially in this market would cause pain but the end objective should be to eliminate them. According to Zakaria these deductions cost the government $250 billion a year. But the pain they have cost in distorting the markets has been even worse.
We should see a reduction in the tax rates to offset some of the lost benefits. Congress is certainly capable of spending every dollar they can find a new way to raise, and we still need to insist on spending prudence even though that almost seems laughable today. I wonder if the populists and tea baggers who are truly concerned with the deficits will be ready to restore some common sense to these subsidies. Will they remain committed even if it affects their pocketbooks?