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Why One Democratic Congresswoman Wants To Drug-Test The Rich

Rep. Gwen Moore (shown in 2012) has introduced a bill that would mandate drug testing for wealthy Americans before they could claim itemized tax deductions over $150,000. She says the bill is intended not so much as a statement about the rich but about the poor.

The richest Americans take heavy advantage of the tax code's many deductions. So Rep. Gwen Moore has an idea: She wants rich Americans to get drug-tested before they can get those tax benefits.

The Wisconsin Democrat is introducing the "Top 1% Accountability Act of 2016." Its goal: require "drug testing for all tax filers claiming itemized deductions in any year over $150,000," her office said in a press release.

Moore made it clear the bill is intended not so much as a statement about the rich but about the poor (the bill has little chance of actually going anywhere in a Republican-controlled House).

"It is my sincere hope that my bill will help eradicate the stigma associated with poverty and engage the American public in a substantive dialogue regarding the struggles of working- and middle-class families," she said in the release.

The inspiration for Moore's trolling legislation, as she told The Guardian, was Paul Ryan's unveiling of the GOP's "A Better Way" poverty plan — an unveiling he did in front of a drug treatment facility. She said Ryan was "pushing this narrative that poor people are drug addicts."

Moore's proposal is also an implicit counterpunch to Republican-backed laws requiring people to undergo drug tests before receiving public assistance. Ryan's proposal doesn't include drug tests for welfare recipients, as the Washington Post reported, but past bills at the state and federal levels have proposed that.

One 2013 Republican-backed bill, for example, would have required states to drug-test some recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (also known as welfare). Another would have allowed states to require SNAP (also known as food stamps) recipients to undergo drug tests.

At least 15 states had passed laws linking public assistance and drug screening as of March, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and 17 states had additional proposed measures on the topic.

Proponents of drug-test requirements say government funds "enable" drug use and that the tests also incentivize would-be users to stay off drugs.

Opponents argue that those states that do drug-test have encountered low positive drug-test rates, as ThinkProgress' Bryce Covert wrote earlier this year, and that it's not clear that the tests end up saving money, as Governing reported in 2012. They also often make points similar to Moore's; as The Daily Beast's Jamelle Bouie pointed out in 2013, the government pays lots of people without requiring drug tests, like Pell Grant recipients and defense contractors, for example.

While benefits like welfare and SNAP by definition go to less fortunate Americans, Moore is targeting a form of government expenditure that overwhelmingly benefits America's highest earners.

Deduction totals climb as one goes up the income ladder. One huge itemized deduction is the mortgage-interest deduction. The top 20 percent accounted for 73 percent of that deduction in 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and the top 1 percent of Americans accounted for 15 percent. Likewise, the top 1 percent accounted for 30 percent of total state and local tax deductions.

The IRS doesn't have data on exactly how many people or which income levels this bill would affect. However, their data show that among tax returns claiming itemized deductions, the average total of those deductions in 2013 for adjusted gross incomes of $1 million to $1.5 million was around $162,000. That total climbs sharply for higher incomes.

[h/t The Week]

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