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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Montpelier, Vt.) - The Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia have renewed a debate that swirled during the 2012 Summer Games in London. Should Olympians' monetary winnings be tax exempt? Bronze medals come with a $10,000 award from the U.S. Olympic Committee. Silver medalists receive $15,000. Gold medalists get $25,000. To Uncle Sam, those winnings are earnings; subject to potentially thousands in taxes.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, has proposed exempting medalists from paying tax on their Olympic prizes. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., is leading a similar effort in the Senate. That renewed a proposal that emerged in the Senate around the time of the 2012 Summer Games, for which President Obama signaled support. But the idea never even made it to a vote.
"Frankly I don't think this is probably one of the major issues facing the United States Congress right now," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told New England Cable News Wednesday.
Olympian Hannah Kearney of Norwich, Vt., is back home from Sochi, with a bronze medal in moguls skiing to go with her gold from Vancouver, well aware she'll have to pay the IRS. "Taxes are kind of American; not my favorite part of being an American," Kearney told WPTZ-TV. "We get no government funding for our Olympic team and so it seems like sort of a slap in the face to have to pay taxes for doing our best."
Sen. Sanders said he is a big fan of Olympians from his state, including Kearney, who have made Vermonters and the country proud. However, he suggested he is far less focused on their tax bills than he is on major national topics like climate change, raising the federal minimum wage, and urging the president to spare Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid from reductions in his budget blueprint due to Congress in early March.
On the state level, waiving taxes on Olympians' Sochi success is not even on the radar of Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vt. "I have given that absolutely no thought," he said when asked about the issue at an unrelated news conference Wednesday.
Hannah Kearney has given the issue thought. "If I have to pay a tax to keep this medal, I will do so," she said, smiling.
Kearney said she was incredibly proud to represent the United States in Sochi, so will do what her country expects of her, even if that means paying taxes.