This piece of the long-awaited fourth emergency coronavirus-relief bill has plenty of people shaken and stirred — and it’s not the second round of stimulus checks being half as much as the first.

No, it is what’s being called the “three-martini lunch” tax deduction, which President Trump has pushed for since the spring as a means to boost a restaurant industry that has been hit especially hard by the pandemic. Businesses have only been able to take 50% of their meal expenses off of their federal taxes since the 1980s, but a proposal backed by the White House and Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, would let them write off 100%. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has included this tax break as a White House priority in the stimulus-bill negotiations, sources told the Washington Post, and Democrats purportedly agreed to it in exchange for an expansion of tax credits for low-income families and the working poor.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, told the paper that “Republicans are nickel-and-diming benefits for jobless workers, while at the same time pushing for tax breaks for three-martini power lunches. It’s unconscionable.”

Treasury’s Mnuchin included the business-meal tax break as a White House priority in stimulus-bill negotiations, and Democrats ultimately agreed to it in exchange for an expansion of tax credits for low-income families and the working poor, according to reports.

This sentiment was shared by many politicians, journalists and taxpayers on social media on Monday. For those already disappointed that the second round of direct checks to Americans would be just $600 per person, the “three-martini lunch” deduction added insult to injury. It led “Let them eat cake” to trend on Twitter as some users mused over how out of touch lawmakers have become with Americans suffering through the pandemic.

In the early stages of the pandemic, Trump had pushed for a more generous tax deduction for businesses for their entertainment and meals, saying it would “really bring life back to the restaurants; I think make them hotter than before.”

Some economists and tax experts disagree. “Months later it is still bad policy, and still not good economic relief for the current situation,” Kyle Pomerleau, a tax analyst at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, told the Washington Post. “It just should not be in there.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that she was looking for a “strong, bipartisan vote today on this legislation, respecting it for what it does, not judging it for what it does not.” The nearly $900 billion package includes direct payments to households ($600 per individual and child for those earning $75,000 a year or less); an extension of pandemic-related federal unemployment programs; and an extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits for jobless Americans on top of their state benefits.

Mnuchin said Monday that the second stimulus checks will start going out next week. He added that Trump was pleased the legislation included full deductibility of business-meal expenses.

This content was originally published here.

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