From his column on Friday ("A Test for Democrats"), wherein he discusses the hedge fund loophole, inter alia. According to Air America, even John Kerry has backed off on closing this loophole. It's time for some of that campaign finance reform.
It’s been a good Democrats, bad Democrats kind of week. The bill expanding children’s health insurance that just passed in the House makes you want to stand up and cheer. Reports that Senator Charles Schumer opposes plans to close the hedge fund tax loophole make you want to sit down and cry.
Let’s start with the good news: The House bill, which the Congressional Budget Office says would provide coverage to five million children who would otherwise be uninsured.
The bill is so good that it has Republicans spluttering. “The bill uses children as pawns,” declared Representative Pete Sessions of Texas. Yes, the Democrats are exploiting children — by providing them with health care.
The horror, the horror!
What’s especially encouraging is the way House Democrats were willing to take on the insurance companies. The bill pays for children’s health care in part by cutting subsidies to Medicare Advantage, a privatization scheme that yields big profits for insurers, but that the budget office estimates would cost taxpayers $54 billion in excess payments over the next five years.
Earlier this year I worried that many Democrats would be taken in by the insurance industry’s disinformation campaign in support of its subsidies, which included the pretense that Medicare Advantage offers big benefits to minority groups. In the end, however, House Democrats refused to be rolled.
All in all, the bill is both a fine piece of legislation and a demonstration that Democrats can stand up to special interests. Happy days are here again.
Or maybe not.
The hedge fund tax loophole is a crystal-clear example of unjustified privilege. Because of a quirk in the law, the people who run these funds don’t pay taxes like ordinary mortals.
For example, the salaries that pension fund employees receive for managing other peoples’ money are taxed as ordinary income, at rates up to 35 percent. But if that money is invested with a hedge fund — and 40 percent of the money in hedge funds comes from public, corporate and union pension plans — the fees the hedge fund manager receives for his services are mainly taxed as capital gains, with a maximum rate of 15 percent.
The arguments usually made on behalf of this unique privilege make no sense. We’re told that the tax rate on hedge fund managers has to be kept low to encourage risk-taking. But the managers aren’t risking their own money. The only risk they face is the uncertainty of their fees — and as any waitress who depends on tips or salesman who depends on commissions can tell you, most people with uncertain incomes don’t get any special tax breaks. . . .