The Constitutionality of Bonus Tax Bills


Since the great wave of AIG outrage crested, I’ve heard lots of speculation as to whether or not the bills under consideration to retroactively tax bonuses paid out at bailed-out firms might be unconstitutional. The Congressional Research Service has a useful discussion of the issues (PDF) which reveals that lots of the things some people have deemed potential constitutional problems are fine, but that there may be a viable constitutional challenge under the “bill of attainder” clause of the constitution.

I continue to find the specific focus on bonuses to be somewhat mysterious. If executives were getting less money in the form of “bonuses” and more in the form of base salary, what would that really change? I’m all for measures to curb excessive compensation, but zeroing in on the bonuses seems like putting semantics ahead of real policy goals.