July 13, 2018Event Recap

Should We Evaluate Tax Expenditures?

Federal/ Economic/ 2018/

Tax expenditures cost the federal government about $1.5 trillion each year. Yet tax expenditures are rarely subject to the same level of scrutiny or oversight as federal spending programs. Given this gap in the evidence base for developing tax policy, Results for America and the Bipartisan Policy Center held a discussion of the issues related to evaluating tax expenditures. Ben Harris, RFA Chief Economist, and Eugene Steuerle, Institute Fellow and Richard B. Fisher Chair with the Urban Institute, presented a new paper, “Evaluating Tax Expenditures: Introducing Oversight into Spending Through the Tax Code,” and a panel of experts reacted to the paper and discussed their views on the question of improving evaluation and oversight of federal tax expenditures.

You can watch video from the event here.

Featured speakers included:

  • Thomas Barthold, Chief of Staff, Joint Committee on Taxation
  • Ben Harris, Chief Economist, Results for America; Former Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Biden
  • Douglas Holtz-Eakin, President, American Action Forum; Former Director, Congressional Budget Office
  • Rohit Kumar, Principal, PricewaterhouseCoopers; Former Domestic Policy Director for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell
  • Diane Lim, Principal Economist, The Conference Board
  • Bruce Reed, Senior Fellow, Results for America; Former Director, Domestic Policy Council
  • Eugene Steuerle, Institute Fellow and Richard B. Fisher Chair, Urban Institute
    Co-Founder, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

Here’s a snapshot of the discussion:

“Would it be a good idea to have improved or any oversight of policies executed through tax expenditures? The clear answer is yes.”
– Douglas Holtz-Eakin, President of the American Action Forum and former CBO Director

“We have a $1.5 trillion tax expenditure budget. That’s a ton of money. We should be making sure that is going towards what works and that these programs are achieving their intended goals.” 
– Ben Harris, Chief Economist and Senior Fellow, Results for America

“My advice is clear on the table that we should evaluate tax expenditures more regularly as we do social welfare and other public spending programs.”
– Bill Hoagland, Senior Vice President, Bipartisan Policy Center

“The open question is what happens when the data starts coming back in and it determines that the policy that Senator so-and-so championed four years ago is, in fact, not doing many good things. Would that person be willing to say, ‘Look, we tried, we failed, let’s take another crack at it.’ “
– Rohit Kumar, Principal, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and former Domestic Policy Director for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell

“Tax expenditures are like the coolest secret playgrounds in the neighborhood.”
– Diane Lim, Principal Economist, The Conference Board

“When you don’t measure for results, when you don’t monitor results, then you don’t design for results and you don’t get results.”
– Bruce Reed, Senior Fellow, Results for America