March 27, 2017

Posts on tax policy

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Monday, March 27, 2017 - 9:57 AM

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released an overview of certain tax breaks -- known as “tax expenditures” -- that can provide elected officials and the public with helpful information as President Trump and many lawmakers shift their focus to revamping the tax code.

“Tax expenditures, projected to total more than $1.5 trillion in 2017, cause (federal) revenues to be lower than they would be otherwise and, like spending programs, contribute to the deficit,” the CBO said in a blog post last week.

The Concord Coalition has long urged elected officials to reduce or eliminate many tax expenditures to help reduce the deficit while making the tax code simpler and more growth-oriented. Tax expenditures, however, receive far less public attention and congressional scrutiny than direct government spending.

“Current tax law includes an array of exclusions, deductions, preferential rates, and credits that reduce revenues for any given level of tax rates in the individual, payroll, and corporate income tax systems,” says the blog post by CBO analyst Joshua Shakin. “Some of these provisions are called tax expenditures because, like many government spending programs, they provide financial assistance for particular activities or to certain...

Friday, February 17, 2017 - 12:45 PM

President Trump and many lawmakers in both parties have promised to attack waste and substantially improve government efficiency. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just handed them a long list of opportunities to do so in its latest “High Risk List.”

With a large and growing federal debt, elected officials should vigorously pursue these opportunities to reduce unnecessary spending and collect hundreds of billions of dollars in unpaid taxes. In addition, Congress and the president should heed the GAO’s renewed warnings about the long-term fiscal challenges facing important but costly entitlement programs.

The High Risk List, which GAO updates at the start of each new Congress, spotlights 34 government activities or areas that the agency considers “vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement or needing broad-based transformation.”

GAO, a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, reports that the government made “considerable progress” on problems highlighted in the 2015 list. The agency removed one area from the High Risk List: the sharing and managing of information related to terrorism, which U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro called “a particularly...

Thursday, January 19, 2017 - 12:12 PM

With a new administration coming into office, a report on the nation’s fiscal health provides a timely and emphatic reminder of the need for the new president and Congress to pursue sweeping long-term changes in the federal budget.

Released this week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the report provides a good look at the nation’s unsustainable fiscal path and deserves close scrutiny by elected officials in both parties.

Although our nation’s leaders face an array of serious short-term challenges and difficult policy choices, the new report reminds them -- and the American public -- that the federal government is already “highly leveraged in debt by historical norms.”

So in addition to the near-term financing decisions that must be made, the GAO says, “a broader plan is needed to put the government on a more sustainable long-term path.”

The report draws on the work of the GAO itself as well as Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections and the recently issued Fiscal Year 2016 Financial Report of the United States Government.

Their projections, the GAO says, “all show that, absent policy changes...

Friday, December 16, 2016 - 4:50 PM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made headlines this week when he suggested that the GOP must pay for its campaign promises, stating his preference for “deficit-neutral” tax cuts and offsets for new spending.

“I think this level of national debt is dangerous and unacceptable,” McConnell told the press at a recent briefing. His comments come at an important time.

As a candidate, Donald Trump frequently made mention of the size of the debt, but some of his more popular proposals threaten to grow it even larger. Analyses of Trump’s proposed tax cuts put the cost between $3 trillion and $6 trillion. Incoming White House Senior Advisor Steve Bannon says he is “pushing a trillion dollar infrastructure plan” and many observers are waiting to see the size of Trump’s actual proposal.

The size of possible proposals is leading many Republicans, including McConnell and even the incoming White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to call for offsets. On “The Hugh Hewitt Show” on Wednesday,...

Tuesday, December 6, 2016 - 10:54 AM

No sooner had Steven Mnuchin confirmed that he was the President-elect’s pick for Treasury secretary than he raised eyebrows in both parties by saying that the new administration’s tax plan would not give an overall tax cut to high-income households.

“Any reductions we have in upper-income taxes will be offset by less deductions so that there will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class,” Mnuchin said. He also said the new administration’s tax plan would provide “the most significant middle-income tax cut since Reagan.”

These comments seemed to contradict the tax reform section of the Trump campaign website, which said taxes would be reduced “across-the-board.” Mnuchin’s statement, in a CNBC interview last week, is also at odds with the work of independent analysts who say the Trump campaign’s plan would deliver substantial tax cuts to high-income taxpayers.

Mnuchin’s comments raised...
Thursday, August 27, 2015 - 11:00 AM

It has been easy for advocates of generationally responsible tax and spending policies to look at Capitol Hill with dismay for the past few years. A few consequences of inaction and lack of bipartisanship include:

  • A complete breakdown in the federal budget process.

  • Continued struggles to replace arbitrary, shortsighted caps on discretionary spending with smarter deficit reduction.

  • Total inaction on addressing the main drivers of deficits in the coming years, rising health costs and an aging population.

  • More than 30 short-term extensions of transportation funding and a failure to eliminate the growing shortfall plaguing the Highway Trust Fund.

  • Multiple debt-limit showdowns, each of which threatened the United States’ credit rating and roiled financial markets.

Yet in the past few months, I’ve been pleased to see at least a few positive signs.

In over two dozen staff and member meetings conducted over the first two months of my tenure at Concord, we’ve found that some lawmakers are coming back around to the fiscal realities facing them this fall and in the coming years. Part of the...

Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 1:15 PM

In less than three months, the highway bill enacted last July will expire and the program’s trust fund will face imminent depletion. At that point, Congressional failure to act would cause tens of thousands of infrastructure projects to be put on hold and would jeopardize construction jobs across the country.

The highway trust fund has historically operated on a “user pays” principle, where motor vehicle and fuel taxes paid by those who directly benefit from roads fund programs to maintain and improve the system. However, when Congress last raised the federal gas tax in 1993, lawmakers chose not to index it to inflation. As a result, the gap between revenue and expenditures has grown as the real value of the tax has declined.

As the chart above shows, there would be no shortfall in the highway trust fund today had its dedicated revenue source been allowed to grow with inflation. But instead of rectifying this problem or finding an alternative source of dedicated revenue, Congress has largely relied on fiscally irresponsible patches funded by...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - 11:23 AM

Lawmakers are now focusing on extending a series of tax provisions mainly benefiting businesses for one year after a much larger deal that would have added hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit collapsed last week.

Initially, lawmakers were considering making a few temporary provisions permanent while extending most other provisions through 2015 -- without offsetting a single dollar of lost revenue. If Congress were to pass legislation resembling that deal, it would have added roughly $530 billion to the deficit over 10 years.

These provisions -- collectively known as “tax extenders” -- are temporary measures that, like other tax expenditures, essentially subsidize certain special interests or activities. Making them permanent, or even just extending them again without offsetting the lost revenue, would be fiscally irresponsible. Any tax provision that decreases revenue should be offset by eliminating other provisions in the tax code or cutting spending. Unfortunately, neither the House nor the Senate seem to be concerned with finding offsets, even though offsets are required under pay-as-you-go (PAYGO)...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 - 10:00 AM

Following last year’s bipartisan budget agreement, this was supposed to be the year of a harmless fiscal ceasefire on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, the ceasefire is becoming a retreat for fiscal responsibility.

On issues ranging from tax and entitlement reform to highways and veterans health, Congress has backtracked, ducked and gimmicked its way around hard choices. This pattern does not bode well for any attempt to put the budget on a sustainable track after the fall elections.

Backing away from military retirement reforms. The first sound of retreat came in February with overwhelming votes in the House and Senate to repeal a provision included as part of their budget agreement just a month earlier that limited cost-of-living adjustments for working-age military retirees.

The minor change supported by the Pentagon would not have saved a huge amount of money (roughly $7 billion over 10 years) but represented the type of difficult choice necessary to reduce defense spending. However, in the face of complaints from veterans groups, Congress quickly backed down. To save face, lawmakers replaced the savings on paper with unspecified automatic cuts 10 years from now, but it was still a clear case of kicking the can down the road.

...
Monday, May 5, 2014 - 4:00 PM

A book titled “Dead Men Ruling” is not the place you would expect to find an optimistic message about our nation’s future. That is the case, however, with a new book from budget expert Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute. The critical connection he draws between renewed fiscal freedom and generational fairness casts the budget debate in a far more important context than deficit reduction for its own sake. This larger theme is one that The Concord Coalition has long embraced.

Despite the dismal fiscal outlook, which portends rising deficits and debt in perpetuity, Steuerle argues that “we no more live in an age of austerity than did Americans at the turn of the twentieth century.... Conditions are ripe to advance opportunity in ways never before possible, including doing for the young in this century what the twentieth did for senior citizens, yet without abandoning those earlier gains.”

The key to realizing these opportunities, he says, is “breaking the political logjam that…was created largely by now dead (and retired) men.”

As Steuerle puts it, “both parties have conspired to create and expand a series of public programs that automatically grow so fast...