Senate Candidate Proposes 5 Percent Tax Cut for Veterans

September 18, 2006

Yesterday in a televised debate on NBC’s Meet the Press, Virginia Senatorial Candidate Jim Webb said that if elected to the Senate, he would propose a 5 percent income tax break for veterans. The excerpt of the MTP transcript:

MR. WEBB: What I’ve done—one of the things I’ve done is I’ve proposed a 5 percent tax break for all people who serve honorably in the military. And one of the reasons that I have done that…

MR. RUSSERT: How much would that cost?

MR. WEBB: If, if you go to the, the typical income of a veteran, it’s about $30-something-thousand, so it’s not a high-cost program. And it’s targeted to people who’ve served. And one of the things that that would do, by the way, in my view, is to bring more people from across class lines into the military. One of the, one of the great problems we have right now in, in, in discussing this war is that very few people who have brought us this war have served and very, very few of the children of these people who have brought us this war have served. And if you have to wake up every morning wondering about a loved one, you will look at, at words like this much differently.

Here is a Washington Post article on the topic from earlier this year:

Virginia U.S. Senate candidate James H. Webb Jr. continued the military emphasis of his Democratic campaign, proposing an income tax break for veterans and picking up the endorsements of retired generals and a congressman who disapprove of the Iraq war.

Webb proposed a 5 percent income tax break for veterans who have served honorably, although he couldn’t say exactly how the plan would work or how much it would cost. But he said it would be an important symbol of how the country values those who volunteer for military service.

“In earlier days, military service in this country was viewed by many to be an obligation. . . . Or to put it another way, military service was viewed as a tax that many in the country were called upon to pay for the good of national security,” said Webb, a former Marine whose son is scheduled to be deployed to Iraq this summer. A tax break would be a reward for such service, he said, and perhaps entice others to join the military.

While it may be proper public policy to give more to veterans, there are better ways to accomplish that goal rather than via the tax code, which is so complex that it may be impossible to use it to help those we intend to help. First, many veterans are retired and have a very low income tax liability already as a result of much of their income being in the form of Social Security benefits, most of which is nontaxable. Therefore, low-income veterans especially would see hardly any relief at all. Second, if the purpose of this proposal is to reward veterans for the value of the service that they have provided to society, why is the value of one veteran’s service a function of his/her current income? Shouldn’t every veteran just be given a one-time check from the government? And finally, the desire to entice others to join the military could be satisfied by merely raising military pay directly rather than a backdoor, complicated attempt through the tax code to convince people to join.


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