If there were a futures market for the fate of the so-called “carried interest loophole” (and who knows, these days, maybe there is), its value would be in a state of near constant fluctuation. Herewith, a quick recap of its ups and downs.
Last summer, the Democrats proposed closing the multibillion-dollar tax loophole for managers of hedge funds and private equity firms. Under the current tax code, they now pay a mere 15 percent capital gains rate on the fees and bonuses (i.e., “carried interest” income) they get paid to manage investment funds they do not own, rather than the 35 percent rate they’d pay under normal income tax schedules. Estimates are this loophole–actually, it’s more the size of a levee breach–will sap the Treasury of $26 billion over the next ten years.
But in October, Senate majority leader Harry Reid seemed to backtrack, saying that the Senate schedule was a little too tight to fit in a vote on the measure. Then, on Friday, the House revived hope for the provision when it passed Charlie Rangel’s tax reform bill (HR 3996), which would, among other things, close the loophole. But the revival may be short-lived, since the bill now has to make it through the Senate Finance Committee, where one key Democrat, Charles Schumer, has indicated outright opposition and another key member, John Kerry, shied away from endorsing it back in May, suggesting the hedge funds be given a ten-year grace period before the loophole is closed.
All this back and forth would be more understandable if the bill itself were controversial, but on the merits and on the politics, it’s a no-brainer. On Wednesday the Washington Post did an excellent job of unraveling why such a red-meat issue for Democrats has lost steam in the Senate, focusing especially on Schumer, the Senate Democrats’ chief fundraiser, who, the Post reported, switched his position not long after James Simons, a hedge fund manager who earned $1.7 billion last year (you read that right), donated $28,500 to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which Schumer chairs.
And of course the New York senator also represents Wall Street, which these days is chock-full of fiscal conservatives and cultural liberals who are leaning more Democratic than Republican. Hedge funds and investment firms, the Post reports, more than doubled their giving from 2006 to 2007, handing nearly $12 million so far to campaigns, parties and PACs–a stunning 83 percent of which has gone to Democrats. And the majority of staff working for the new industry trade association–the Private Equity Council–are former Democratic Hill staffers. “If you’re a Democrat and you have to choose between the alternative minimum tax and the hedge fund industry, that’s one tough ideological choice,” Viva Hammer, a former Treasury Department staffer, told the Post. “It’s a choice between your votes and your wallet.”