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January 5, 2013

From NASCAR to rum, the 10 weirdest parts of the 'fiscal cliff' bill

By now, we've heard all about the big stuff in the fiscal cliff bill that finally passed on Tuesday. The Bush tax cuts will become permanent for all individual income below $400,000 (and family income below $450,000). The sequester spending cuts will be delayed two months. And so on.

But Congress also managed to include all sorts of corporate tax breaks and other arcane provisions into the final bill, covering everything from electric scooters to NASCAR racetracks to taking the subway to work. Most of these tax breaks were already longstanding provisions - Congress has been working to renew them all year. They're just being extended again for another year (or sometimes two), at a total cost of roughly $77 billion.

So let's take a look at 10 of the more curious tax provisions in the fiscal cliff bill-it offers some insight into how messy the tax code is, and will continue to be for another year.

1. A $9 billion "sop for Wall Street banks and major multinationals"

Check out Section 322 of the bill. "Extension of the Active Financing Exception to Subpart F." Sounds dull, right? Not quite.

As Dan Eggen has reported, this provision, first created in 1997, allows manufacturers and banks to defer taxes when they engage in a special type of financial transactions known as "active financing." The break now costs $9 billion per year, and critics claim it encourages firms to create jobs overseas. But it's a top lobbying priority for companies like GE and JP Morgan, who say that it helps them compete abroad, and it will get extended another year.

Now, there are a ton of other costly business tax breaks in the deal, too, from tax credits for R&D to bonus depreciation (which studies have found are ineffective at stimulating the economy). But the $9 billion active financing credit was arguably the hardest-fought.

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