Here’s who got a tax break out of Washington’s year-end spending deal
On Dec. 21, the behemoth 5,593-page deal to provide coronavirus stimulus and keep the U.S. government running in 2021 was finally released to the public.
It passed both the House and the Senate just a few hours later.
Now as lawmakers rush home for Christmas, business groups and observers are poring over the bill – the longest ever passed by Congress – to see which businesses and industries come out the biggest winners.
Some of the biggest examples of government largesse were known in advance. Airlines received a second round of the Payroll Support Program with a price tag of $16 billion. Amtrak received $1 billion in funding, and emergency grants to music venues added another $15 billion to the total.
Smaller businesses of all stripes will also be able to take advantage of a second round of the forgivable loans from the Paycheck Protection Program.
But a range of other industries – from beer makers to thoroughbred horse racers – got tax breaks to help them in the coming years and months. Here are some notable examples.
The ‘three martini lunch’ tax deduction
A tax break many picked up on was what critics have termed the “three martini lunch” deduction. The provision, which President Trump has touted in the past, allows a company to fully deduct a business meal as a business expense.
The bill outlines a “temporary allowance of full dedication for business meals” on page 4,946. In an analysis from the American Action Forum, Gordon Gray notes that firms can currently deduct 50% of the cost of business-related meals. After the new year, the deduction increases to 100% for 2021 and 2022. The cost to the Treasury will be somewhere around $5 billion to $6.3 billion, according to early estimates.
The provision was pushed by Republicans and reportedly agreed to by Democrats in exchange for expanded tax credits for low-income families.
Republicans held up aid for jobless workers and families so they could include a tax break for three-martini lunches for lobbyists and CEOs in the final deal. https://t.co/c8xKzallcO
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) December 21, 2020
The provision has been touted by some as a way to help the restaurant industry, but critics say it’s more directly aimed at business executives.
Restaurants appear to have come away from the deal with a mixed bag. Industry groups had been pushing for legislation called the RESTAURANTS Act which would provide direct aid, but it wasn’t included in the final deal.
Restaurants can also receive help through the second round of the PPP, but industry advocates have already come out and said the deal falls “woefully short.”
Breweries and winemakers
The deal includes a range of measures for spirits-makers, including the reduction of certain excise taxes and reduced rates for alcohol imports. The industry had been bracing for a tax hike at the end of the year in the event Congress took no action.
In a statement, Chris Swonger, president and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council, said it would mean “a huge sigh of relief for struggling craft distillers.”
Breweries have been pushing Congress for months to make the previous tax cuts permanent, getting a majority of lawmakers to co-sponsor legislation that was eventually worked into the overall deal. Jim Trezise, president of WineAmerica, thanked “the hundreds of supporters in Congress for this major breakthrough.”
The spirits industry has been turned upside down in 2020 with many brick-and-mortar alcohol sellers seeing their businesses shut down while online purveyors like Drizly saw 350% growth.
Owners of thoroughbred racehorses, many of whom reside in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, also received special attention in the final deal.
The legislation includes a provision to reclassify “certain racehorses as 3-year property,” which will translate into a tax break for owners. The provision allows owners to depreciate the value of qualifying racehorses to save money on taxes, which could help “spur investment in racehorses,” according to thoroughbreddailynews.com.
The deal also includes the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020. The bill will regulate the horse-racing industry at a national level and aim to stop things like the race-day doping.
“I’m proud the Senate agreed to my legislation to preserve our signature racing industry and the 24,000 workers who support it,” McConnell said in a statement.
Targeted changes for farmers and the self-employed
A summary of the tax provisions compiled by the House Ways and Means ranking member Kevin Brady (R., Texas) highlighted a range of other groups who will benefit come tax time.
Farmers and ranchers will now have new rules about how they can claim farming losses by changing rules that had been instituted in the CARES Act. The regulation “eliminates unnecessary compliance burdens for farmers.”
The new rules also impact some self-employed workers and allows others – like educators, volunteer firefighters, and emergency medical responders – to write off certain personal protective equipment or make permanent certain tax benefits.
Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.
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