Editorial: Do not improve federal taxes on brewers and distillers | Opinion

When it comes to special favors, Congress can sure dish them out. And nobody can get as much grief for dishing them out as Congress.

Remember the Bridge to Nowhere? It was used to batter Congressional pork barrel politics. It was actually a bridge from Ketchikan, Alaska — population of some 8,000 — to Gravina Island — population of far, far less. The island, though, also has the region’s airport. Not exactly a bridge to nowhere.

Another Congressional practice can get roundly criticized. In Congressional lingo, they are called tax extenders. They are tax breaks inserted into bills. They can be narrowly targeted. For instance, there was one horse owners could use to write off the total investment in the time it takes horses to get a chance at the Triple Crown. Bunches of such tax breaks by different members of Congress are typically bundled together in one big package so they pass.

Oregon’s Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, got some attention recently for a tax break he crafted to help small breweries and wineries. It was rolled into this year’s year-end package of bills. It could be in jeopardy because President Donald Trump is unhappy with some aspects of the package, though he didn’t call out this one.

So is this tax break an undeserved special favor for a niche industry? Sure doesn’t seem so.

The provision makes permanent a cut in excise taxes for producers of beer, wine and distilled spirits. It was first put in place by Republicans in 2017. Wyden aimed to make it permanent.

It’s easy to understand why. Craft distillers pay a federal excise tax of $2.70 per proof gallon on the first 100,000 proof gallons they produce. As of Jan. 1 it is set to go up 400%. And craft brewers who brew fewer than 2 million barrels — that would include your favorite craft brewer in Oregon — pay $3.50 per barrel. After Jan. 1, that is also set to double.

Wyden’s idea would stop that from happening. He brewed up the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act. The key provisions were merged into the year-end tax extenders.

Breweries are bright spots in American manufacturing. They create jobs. And unlike many other types of manufacturing in this country, they have been growing. Some economic research suggests that the tax breaks brewers received have translated into more jobs and holding prices down for consumers.

If Congress doesn’t act, one of the bright spots of American manufacturing gets hit with a big tax increase during the pandemic. That would make no sense.

It’s not always bad for Congress to single out special treatment for the right cause. Do you know what else got special treatment because members of Oregon’s Congressional delegation inserted them into packages in the past? Central Oregon Community College got money. An expansion of the Redmond Airport got funding. La Pine got money for a senior center. Madras got money for a workforce training center. We don’t know what you may think of the way that money was spent. For us, Congress and President Trump should support Wyden’s effort.