By Jonathan Karl
Listening to the White House, you’d think the key to averting the across-the-board spending cuts (the dreaded “sequester”) set to in place on March 1 is closing the tax break for owners of private jets.
Here was White House Press Secretary Jay Carney last week:
“How do you explain to a senior that we’re doing this, asking you to sacrifice, but we’re not saying that corporate jet owners should lose their special tax incentive.”
On Wednesday, Carney summed up the Republican position this way: “We’d rather see our national security undermined than corporate jet owners, God forbid, give up their tax break.” And President Obama in an interview Wednesday with KAKE-TV in Wichita: “What we don’t want to do is give somebody who’s buying a corporate jet an extra tax break.”
Carney has brought up the corporate jet tax break at every single briefing this week.
Listening to the White House, you might think that the “balanced” Democratic plan to avert the spending cuts would close that loophole for private jets.
But you would be wrong.
The Senate Democratic plan – which has been endorsed by the White House and is, in fact, the only Democratic plan actively under consideration right now – doesn’t touch corporate jets. We asked Carney if the White House is upset that the Senate Democrats’ plan protects corporate jets. His answer:
“Our position – in the president’s plan that has been available for ages but republicans and some reporters pretend doesn’t exist – is that the corporate jet loophole should be eliminated. We’d be fine if it were eliminated as part of the revenue component of a sequester buy-down or as part of broader tax reform in a bigger balanced deficit reduction deal. Either way. And either way, Republicans oppose it, and would rather see sequester hit than ask corporate jet owners to give up their special tax break. How is that not true?”
Even if the Senate plan did end the tax break for private jets, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. The tax break – which allows the owners of private jets to depreciate their airplanes over five years instead of the standard seven years for commercial airplanes – would raise less than $300 million a year. That’s a tiny fraction of the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts scheduled to go into effect this year.
But – even so – the Senate Democratic plan allows that tax break to continue – unchanged. The White House also frequently mentions tax breaks for oil and gas companies. The Democratic plan does eliminate some of those, but even that doesn’t add up to much: Just $2 billion in the Senate Democratic plan.