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Posted by on Sep 29, 2009 in Politics, Society | 11 comments

HAPPY HAPPY health care reform for … pets?

I had an interesting conversation last night regarding a curious e-mail which my friend Ed Morrissey received about a new bill being introduced in the House of Representatives. The purpose of the legislation would be to provide tax deductions to people for the care of their pets.

ACTON, CA – founders Leo Grillo and Robert Davi are pleased that the Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years (“HAPPY”) Act was introduced last week in the U.S. House of Representative. The legislation introduced by Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) is a federal bill that would reward pet owners by allowing them to deduct up to $3,500 for pet care costs, including veterinary services.

Before you assume that this is some sort of Democrat / Liberal bashing exercise, note that McCotter is a Republican and is widely regarded as a reliable conservative voice in the people’s house. Ed sees this as somewhat outside the scope of Congressional responsibility, not to mention being yet more clutter in an already dysfunctional tax code.

I like both Davi and McCotter, but this seems rather misguided, especially for a conservative Republican like McCotter. Republicans have been demanding tax simplification, not further complication, for the last few years, and for good reasons. The problem with the current tax code is precisely that “using the tax code to encourage positive behavior is common practice.” Congress and presidents routinely press for tax breaks for their ideas of social engineering, which is why we now spend hundreds of billions of dollars in tax compliance.

Even if one grants that as a legitimate mechanism for critical economic issues, would that include pet ownership? What critical purpose gets filled by owning a cat, dog, or a bird? How should one family’s pet get them off the hook for taxes that others pay?

Before you make any assumptions about my personal situation, here’s a picture of my Basset Hound and my Schnauzer. We also have three cats. The basset had one seizure and recently suffered a stroke. One of our cats had to have an MRI. (Take a guess what that costs.) Between pet food, cat litter and regular check-ups and medical procedures I blow through 3500 bucks a year easily, generally by mid summer. Could I use an extra 3500 dollar deduction? Sure!

But this is a crazy idea. Not only, as Ed points out, does it needlessly add further complications to the tax code, but pets are not children. (As much as we owners tend to think of them as such.) There is no requirement to have pets, and while it pains me to describe it this way, it is something of a “luxury” when it comes to taxation. I don’t expect my petless neighbors to foot the bill for my dogs’ expenses. (Hell, I’m already annoyed that I have to pay taxes for schools since I don’t have children.)

One other area which Ed doesn’t touch on is the question of verification and fraud. I suppose the vet bills could be tracked readily enough if we’re going to put enough people on the job, but what of the pet food and other normal household expenses? Are we to save every week’s grocery receipts for the year and mail them all in? And the IRS has to go through them all? And what of people who decide to claim they had a pet even though they don’t just for the new deduction? I can just see the IRS agents coming around to people’s homes each spring.

May 2010
AGENT: I see here that you claimed a deduction for your cat for last year.

OWNER: Yes, that’s right. My …. errr… cat.

AGENT: So, could I see the cat?

OWNER: I’m afraid he’s not home right now.

AGENT: Not home?

OWNER: No. I mean… he died.

AGENT: He died? Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.

OWNER: Yeah, well, thanks. You know how it is.
MAY 2011

AGENT: Sir, I see from your tax return that you claimed a deduction for your cat.

OWNER: Right.

AGENT: But you told me last year that your cat died.

OWNER: Ummm… yeah. Well, I got a new cat.

AGENT: Oh. Can I see the cat?

OWNER: Errrr… he’s not home right now I don’t think.

AGENT: Not home?

OWNER: No. He’s … uh… visiting friends.

AGENT: I see. Do you have a picture of your cat?

OWNER: A… picture…. yeah. Hang on. (Goes inside for a few minutes.) Yeah. Here ya go.

AGENT: Sir, this is a page from a magazine. It’s a pet food advertisement.

OWNER: Yeah. Well… my cat does some modeling work for extra money.

AGENT: Really? I don’t see any income for pet modeling on your form.

OWNER: I don’t do my cat’s taxes.

You get the idea. In any event, this looks like another piece of feel good legislation to drum up some votes with a sympathetic demographic group. I really don’t expect it to pass, but who knows? Like I said… I could use the deduction I suppose.

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