Wow. Our experiment is off to a great start—let's see if we can finish it off sooner than expected.
President Barack Obama’s new budget proposal, released Wednesday, would raise $16 billion in revenue over 10 years by getting rid of one of the ways millionaires and billionaires pay lower taxes than their secretaries. It's called the carried interest tax break, and it allows the wealthy to pay a lower rate on some of their income. But ending the carried interest exception will be tough, and not just because a budget compromise with Republicans is unlikely: Previous proposed legislation to kill the tax break was riddled with loopholes.
The carried interest tax break works by letting private equity and hedge fund managers treat some of the income they earn from managing clients' portfolios as if they had invested it themselves. That allows folks like Mitt Romney to pay a 20 percent investment income tax rate on their money management fees, instead of the normal 39.6 percent tax rate on earned income. This special rich person perk costs the government some $1.3 billion a year. That's one reason why Obama and many Democrats slam the tax break as unfair and have targeted it for repeal.
"There continues to be no rationale whatsoever for people to pay at a vastly lower tax rate when they are managing other people’s money," Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), who has introduced all of the carried interest legislation in past years, said in an email. "This is an issue of fairness that we should address as we seek a balanced approach to deficit reduction that involves both additional revenues and spending cuts."
But getting rid of the tax break may not be such an easy task, given the tortuous history of the movement to deep-six it. The fight against carried interest is Levin's baby. He first introduced a bill to ax the loophole in 2007, and has introduced two more versions since then, all of which have stalled.