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Lawmakers to IRS: Stop taxing Olympic medals

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Americans brought home a total of 104 medals from the 2012 games held in London.

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers are working to keep American Olympians from getting hit with a tax bill every time they bring a medal home to the United States.

"We were talking in the office about how unfair the tax system was, and someone said, this is an easy one to fix, so let's try to fix the unfairness of our international tax code," Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican, told the Washington Examiner. "These guys work for years representing the United States, and then we tag them with a tax on the physical value of the medal that they win.

"Not only is it bad for the Olympic athletes, it indicates an overall problem with our overly complicated tax system that taxes earnings worldwide," Farenthold said.

With Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., Farenthold has proposed the "Tax Exemptions for American Medalists Act," which would free America's winners from paying an income tax on the medals, which can be valued from $10,000 for bronze to as much as $25,000 for gold, beginning with this year's games in Rio de Janeiro. The games get underway Aug. 5.

The Congressional Budget Office has yet to score the legislation, meaning the impact the legislation would have on the federal budget has yet to be estimated. However, Americans brought home a total of 104 medals from the 2012 games held in London, which means the amount would be relatively insignificant.

The U.S. Olympic Committee has also recognized the legislation, saying in a statement that it appreciated the effort being made by Farenthold and Butterfield. "This bill could assist many athletes as they train to compete for the United States," the committee said.

With little opposition, the bill at first glance would seem like something that should pass without a hiccup. Yet it's been years in the making in both chambers, and with little traction to date. A 2012 proposal from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the "Olympic Tax Elimination Act," never made it to the floor for a vote.

Farenthold speculated that Congress might have been holding out for a more comprehensive tax reform package, and added that one proposal to that effect, authored by Texas Republican Rep. Kevin Brady, would include the components of his own bill.

Nonetheless, Farenthold said, Congress should stop waiting and take action before the upcoming games. "I think everybody is holding out for a more comprehensive tax reform bill," he noted. "I thought this was something that could sort of stand on its own, and we could show our support for our Olympic athletes.

"The way the vast majority of other countries treat income is that they don't tax income earned abroad," he added. "I think Brady's idea of coming more in line with the rest of the world will accomplish the same goals.

"But the Olympics are coming up, probably before we'll have comprehensive tax reform passed and signed by the president. I would love to see this standalone piece of legislation pass to show America's commitment to tax reform and our Olympic athletes."