Tax break for Olympians is gold medal politics

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney may have offended the British during his visit to the London Olympics by questioning whether they were ready for the Games. But one of his potential vice-presidential picks, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, has managed to be quite savvy in gaining popularity on the tails of Olympic fever. Rubio has proposed a tax exemption for honorariums American medalists receive for an Olympic victory. It’s a good enough idea, and it’s medal-winning politics.

Kayla Harrison of the US won the women's 78kg judo competition.

The United States Olympic Committee gives cash awards to Olympic medalists: a gold brings $25,000. Because it is “prize” money, the IRS will bill a winner up to $9,000. That’s chump change for the likes of the endorsement-laden Michael Phelps, but for the lesser-known athletes in more obscure sports, it is a significant hit.

Creating a new exemption for Olympic athletes would go against the bipartisan tide toward simplifying the tax code. Such a carve-out is exactly what makes the US tax system, in Rubio’s own words, “complicated and burdensome.” But Rubio and most other politicians know that the Olympic spirit isn’t about consistency, or even sound tax policy. It is about supporting those who represent America in the world’s largest competition. There may be a better reason than “why not” for endorsing Rubio’s bill, but with all those athletic heroes wearing American colors and striving to bring home the gold, “why not” is reason enough.