The Completely Disingenuous Obama Administration Position on Private Jets

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 13, 2011

I can’t believe that we actually have to talk about this, but if we do, it’s a good thing that we have Jacob Sullum around to set straight anyone at the White House who is interested in gathering the facts:

The revenue to be gained from a slower depreciation schedule for corporate jets, writes The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler, is “so small the White House could not even provide an estimate.” Republican congressional staffers say it amounts to about $3 billion over a decade, or $300 million a year, which is 0.02 percent of this year’s budget deficit. If Obama can fund food inspection, college scholarships, medical research, the National Weather Service, and Medicare for that amount, he should have no trouble balancing the budget without raising taxes.

The whole point of Obama’s rants against corporate jets, of course, is to shame Republicans into going along with tax increases by portraying them as fat cats’ lapdogs, salivating at the thought of balancing the budget on the backs of uneducated, untreated food poisoning victims who don’t even know whether the sun will come out tomorrow because the government can’t afford to pay for meteorologists anymore. Still, he’s right that there’s no reason to assume corporate aircraft degrade faster than commercial aircraft. For that matter, why pretend that planes fall apart after seven years, when they actually last for decades?

Congress wrote those depreciation schedules into law in 1986, leaving it to the Treasury Department to adjust them as appropriate. Two years later, Congress revoked that authority, presumably due to some well-placed lobbying.

Yet on three separate occasions, Obama himself has championed even faster depreciation for business aircraft in the name of stimulating the economy. The most recent law, signed by Obama in December, allows businesses to write off the entire cost of planes purchased between September 8, 2010, and December 31, 2011, in the first year.

Aircraft manufacturers, whose special treatment accounts for something like 0.03 percent of all tax breaks, are understandably dismayed at their quick transformation from engines of job creation into accomplices of corporate villains. Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association,complains that “the president has inexplicably chosen to vilify and mischaracterize business aviation—an industry that is critical for citizens, companies, and communities across the U.S., and one that can play a central role in the economic recovery he says he wants to promote.”

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