WASHINGTON -- House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has for months argued for closing tax loopholes as a way to pay for his proposed tax cuts. But it turns out he has a penchant for creating those same loopholes when it comes to helping out his biggest donors.
Since unveiling the House GOP budget in the spring, Ryan has been touting provisions aimed at ending tax loopholes and deductions in exchange for lowering tax rates in general. "We're talking about keeping revenues where they are, but having a better tax system to collect those revenues with an eye on economic growth and job creation," he said during an April interview on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."
He added, "You have to remember, the people in the top tax brackets are the ones who enjoy most of the loopholes and deductions."
But a look at Ryan's record since he was elected to Congress in 1998 shows that he has tried to create an array of special loopholes for his top contributors, whose interests range from air fresheners to fraternity housing to beer.
Take S.C. Johnson & Son, one of Ryan's biggest donors. The multibillion-dollar company, which is based in Ryan's district and manufactures popular cleaning products like Pledge and Windex, donated $41,092 through its PAC to the congressman between 1998 and 2012, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Ryan introduced two bills in May 2005 that would have granted the company special exemptions from tariffs. Specifically, his bills sought to suspend duties for imported components of "unique air freshener products … assembled by S.C. Johnson in the United States," Ryan said during floor remarks at the time. Neither bill advanced.
A year later, Ryan put forward another bill to reduce the duty on S.C. Johnson cleaning appliances "capable of dispensing cleaning solution into a tub or shower enclosure using a button-activated, battery-powered piston pump controlled by a microchip." That bill didn't move.
The Wisconsin Republican has also pushed legislation that would have created tax loopholes for fraternity and sorority housing. Ryan himself was a member of Delta Tau Delta and, in 2004, received the fraternity's alumni achievement award. A year later, Fraternity & Sorority PAC began giving donations to Ryan that, by 2010, totaled $24,500, according to OpenSecrets.org.
During those same years, Ryan sponsored or cosponsored three bills that would have allowed college fraternities and sororities to accept tax-deductible charitable contributions for the construction of more housing. None of the bills became law.
Ryan has also backed numerous tax loopholes for the beer industry. The National Wholesalers Association, his second biggest contributor, gave him more than $72,000 between 1998 and 2010, according to OpenSecrets.org.
During those years, Ryan cosponsored five bills to cut taxes for beer brewers, reduce beer taxes to pre-1991 levels and repeal occupational taxes relating to distilled spirits, wine and beer. None became law.
The list goes on: In 1999, the congressman tried to give a tax break to a group the Los Angeles Times referred to as "the golf-course underprivileged." That year, he cosponsored the Caddie Relief Act, which would have allowed golf caddies to forgo paying taxes on their earnings.
Ryan has also opposed efforts to close offshore tax loopholes. He voted against an amendment in 2006 that would have barred funding for contracts with U.S. companies incorporated offshore to avoid paying U.S. taxes. In 2004, he opposed an amendment that would have prohibited the Export-Import Bank from approving direct loans to U.S. companies incorporated offshore to avoid U.S. taxes.
Ryan spokesman Kevin Seifert said the lawmaker's record is consistent when it comes to special interest tax breaks.
"Paul Ryan believes the tax code is fundamentally broken -- imposing burdens on small businesses and working families and creating barriers to job creation," Seifert said. "He has proposed specific solutions that eliminate or scale back all special interest tax breaks while advancing pro-growth reforms to help get America back to work.”
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