Washington INsider

Washington INsiderblog

Mark Schoeff Jr. looks at what's really happening on Capitol Hill - and the upshot for advisers.

Taxes deferred: Battle over investment tax breaks 'going to get ugly'

Industry groups ready to go to the mat over deductions and other incentives

Nov 6, 2012 @ 3:04 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

If the election finally concludes late Tuesday night, it doesn't mean that the American people will get a break from incessant campaigning.

Once the dust settles on the presidential and congressional contests, the battle over tax reform will begin in earnest. Interest groups are gearing up to fight to the death over their favorite deductions and deferrals.

The American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries announced at is annual conference in National Harbor, Md., last week that it will launch a grass-roots initiative on Nov. 12 designed to protect tax incentives for contributions to employer-sponsored retirement plans.

The group is concerned about a growing bipartisan inclination to lower rates and broaden the tax base. Democrats and Republicans will pay for that reform by reducing so-called tax expenditures, such as the retirement-savings incentives.

Trimming those tax breaks, however, will undermine the ability of Americans to build their retirement nest eggs, warns Brian Graff, ASPPA executive director. His group will make that point in the campaign it launches next week.

“We want to make sure there's a loud and clear voice conveying the importance of retirement savings,” Mr. Graff said.

The Insured Retirement Institute also is gearing up to defend the turf. It released a report last week that stressed the importance of the tax deferrals.

The challenge Mr. Graff and his allies face is that there's a lobbying organization poised to defend every tax break in the code. They'll all be jockeying for position – and, like candidates for office, throwing elbows.

“It's a free-for-all,” Mr. Graff said. “It's going to get ugly.”

It's also going to get expensive. While ASPPA intends to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on its campaign, other groups are investing millions to shield mortgage tax deductions and other incentives.

“We need the [retirement] industry to spread the word because we can't afford the TV commercials to do it for them,” Mr. Gaff said.

Tax reform will consume the Washington agenda next year, according to Brian Gardner, head of Washington policy research at Keefe Bruyette & Woods Inc.

“Tax and entitlement reform is going to suck the oxygen and energy out of the first year of whoever wins [the presidency],” Mr. Gardner told reporters last week.

Regardless of who takes the White House, ASPPA will have to play defense on tax reform, according to Mr. Graff.

He points out that President Barack Obama favors limiting tax deductions to 28%, which would dilute the value of the deferral for small business owners who set up retirement plans for their employees. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would cap the total amount of deductions any taxpayer could take. He's mentioned various ceilings.

“Either way, you're impacting the tax incentives associated with retirement plans potentially,” Mr. Graff said.

If you don't like campaigning, brace yourself. You're going to get much more of it after tonight.

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