Don't worry, Michael Phelps, if Sen. Marco Rubio gets his way, you… (Adam Pretty / Getty Images )
It can be a little tough for people from blue states to understand the refusal by conservatives to tax those who can best afford to pay, but Sen. Marco Rubio's self-aggrandizing Olympic Tax Elimination Act seems to explain the basis for the philosophy. To wit: Special people are special. So they deserve special treatment from Uncle Sam.
The Florida Republican's recently introduced bill would protect the honorariums received by Olympic athletes from taxation. It was news to me that Olympic athletes got paid at all, but apparently winners get cash payments of $25,000 for a gold medal, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze. According to the Miami Herald, Rubio got the idea of guarding this income from the IRS from Grover Norquist's conservative policy group Americans for Tax Reform. It is, obviously, juicy red meat for an election year. It is also, obviously, terrible tax policy.
"We can all agree that these Olympians who dedicate their lives to athletic excellence should not be punished when they achieve it," Rubio said in a press release.
Except that honorariums, even if they go to Olympic athletes, are regular income, and there's no particularly good reason for exempting them. All kinds of unnecessary exemptions have been carved into the tax code, but if you're going to argue for a new one, it should be justified by some social benefit. For example, if you lower the capital gains tax, you could encourage investment, which could have economic benefits. What's the economic or social gain from giving athletes a free ride? Rubio doesn't even bother to mention one, though he does pay a lot of lip service to reforming our nation's "complicated and burdensome tax code," which he is aiming to make more complicated by adding yet another needless loophole.
Successful Olympic athletes often (though of course not always) achieve a degree of fame that brings extra income from product endorsements, and anyway it's very unlikely that any of them were driven to be the best in the world in their sport by the prospect of a $25,000 honorarium. Give Rubio a gold medal for pandering, but he's stewing in the warm-up pool with the Kazakh diving team when it comes to tax policy.
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