New Relief Bill Rewards Businesses

The Daily Escape:

Hayden Valley, Yellowstone NP – December 2020 photo by Jack Bell

Politico reports that Congressional leaders are nearing a deal on Covid relief. The deal could be done by the time you read this.

The relief package is divided into two parts. The first bill, with a stated cost of $748 billion, funds the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), along with $300 per week for unemployment benefits.

The second bill ties liability protections for companies demanded by Republicans to the Democrats’ demand for funding for state and local governments.

The big-ticket items in the first bill include one-time stimulus checks to individuals in the $600 to $700 range, an extension of federal unemployment benefits with an additional weekly amount of $300. There is $325 billion for small businesses, $257 billion for the PPP, some $ billions for vaccines, and to help schools open safely.

Delayed until the New Year is bill two, including money for state and local governments faced with laying off municipal workers, and liability protection for companies that put their employees in danger from the virus through inadequate safety measures. The items in the second bill are what have stalled negotiations for weeks.

Lee Fang of the Intercept reports that the draft of the first bill circulating on Capitol Hill contains several adjustments to the PPP, the centerpiece of the government’s earlier efforts to curb job loss stemming from the pandemic. One of the revisions is a radical change that would result in a major windfall for the highest-income Americans and large corporations. That provision allows businesses claiming expenses reimbursed by PPP forgivable loans, (already tax-free), to also be used as deductions when calculating taxable income.

In other words, the change would allow a corporation that claimed $1 million in PPP reimbursements to also deduct the same $1 million on its tax return, thereby reducing their taxable income by $1 million. Until now, IRS rules prohibited tax-free government grants and reimbursements from being used as deductions. The Intercept quotes Steven Rosenthal from the Tax Policy Center, who estimates that this PPP deduction provision could reduce the taxes of the highest-income taxpayers by at least $100 billion without benefiting workers or the unemployed.

This tax deduction provision technically applies to all PPP recipients, but few will be able to take the additional tax benefit. Wealthy business owners and large corporations claim the lion’s share of business expense deductions. This group would include wealthy doctors and financial consultants, and those who make over $1 million in yearly income.

This tax provision has been pushed by Rep Richard Neal, (D-MA), and Sen Chuck Grassley, (R-IA). There has been little pushback to these tax giveaways, reflecting a general consensus in Congress around the value of more business tax cuts. Lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-KY), have described the PPP extension and expansion as an “uncontroversial” aspect of stimulus talks.

This should be pretty simple. If you get a PPP loan, and it is later forgiven, the expenses paid with the loan proceeds shouldn’t be deductible. The company didn’t pay taxes on the PPP loan cash proceeds and thus shouldn’t receive a deduction against taxable income for the expenses paid. That’s double-dipping.

The big idea behind PPP loan forgiveness was to help businesses retain employees and pay certain qualified expenses like rent and utilities, not to enrich employers.

Also buried in the bill is another bailout for US Airlines. They stand to get another $17 billion taxpayer-funded bailout if the first bill becomes law. From Wolf Richter:

“Democrats and Republicans may not agree on much of anything these days, but they both love to bail out airline shareholders and bondholders. And that’s what this is – dressed up as payroll protection and airline support program.”

The new airline bailout comes on top of what they received in the original stimulus bill: $25 billion in payroll support, an additional $25 billion in loans for passenger airlines, and over $10 billion in grants and loans for cargo airlines and aviation contractors.

Let’s remember that the top four airlines have burned their cash by repurchasing $45 billion of their shares since 2012. They don’t need more of our money, Chapter 11 bankruptcy works. Delta, American and United have previously restructured in bankruptcy court, and it worked fine. They know how to do that.

And let’s tell it like it is: If there wasn’t a majority of Republicans in the Senate, the people would get the checks and the unemployment relief they really need.

Win in Georgia!