Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mandates vs Incentives

What's the difference between a mandate and a tax incentive?  Nothing but rhetoric.  Martin Sullivan created this table:

He says
The only difference between the mandate and your common tax incentive is that Congress framed the incentive as a tax penalty instead of a tax break. I recognize there might be a legal difference between the two approaches that is beyond my comprehension. But the Court, Congress, and the public should understand that economically the two approaches are exactly the same. Any tax penalty can easily be redesigned as a tax incentive. So, for example, a $1,000 tax penalty for not doing X could be replaced by a tax policy whereby all individuals' taxes are raised by $1,000 and then they are given a tax credit of $1,000 for doing X.
Catherine Rampell picked this up and likes the idea that if ACA is unconstitutional, then all tax incentives might be unconstitutional too--
It seems unlikely that the entire tax incentive system would crumble should the mandate be struck down. That would go a long way toward simplifying the tax code, though, and probably help curb lobbying, too.
Of course, there is no curbing lobbying.  There is always another way to frame one's goals.

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