April 24, 2014

Posts on tax policy

Subscribe to this feed Subscribe to this feed

 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 9:58 AM

For the fourth time in four years, President Obama has tucked a little gem of a tax policy proposal into his budget: the proposal to limit the tax benefit of itemized deductions to 28 percent.  It’s a great idea because it would reduce a large tax subsidy (i.e., “tax expenditure”) for those who need it least, improve the economic efficiency of the tax code and raise revenues that could be used as part of a deficit-reduction package. Last year the Congressional Budget Office estimated the president's proposal would raise $293 billion over 10 years. A more ambitious version limiting itemized deductions to a 15 percent rate, as presented in the CBO's compendium of budget options, would raise $1.2 trillion over 10 years -- in other words, equivalent to trimming overall tax expenditures (which are over $1 trillion per year) by about 10 percent through that one policy change alone.

This year, however, the Obama Administration went bolder on their general theme of reducing tax expenditures for high-income households and proposed the 28 percent limit not only for itemized deductions but also for foreign-excluded income, tax-exempt interest, employer-sponsored health insurance, retirement contributions, and “selected” above-the-line deductions.  All these current tax preferences would be limited to that...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 10:49 AM

The current debate over extending the payroll tax cut well demonstrates that policymakers often mean different things when referring to policies that “help” or “expand” the economy. I often hear the words “stimulus” and “growth” used interchangeably, but when economists use them, we typically are making a distinction between different economic goals that apply to different circumstances.

“Stimulus” usually refers to short-term policies to increase demand for goods and services in an economy  operating at less-than-full capacity -- i.e., an economy with high unemployment. In such a recessionary economy, the problem is not a lack of productive resources (capital and labor), but a lack of demand for the goods and services that those resources produce. Under such conditions, public sector deficits -- whether through tax cuts or direct spending -- can be an effective way to increase demand (consumption) and the level of economic activity.

“Growth” usually refers to the long-term expansion of the “supply side” of the economy -- that is, the supply of capital and labor. When the economy is at “full employment,” the binding constraint on it is not the demand for goods and services, but the supply of inputs to production. Fiscal policies that are good at growing the economy over the longer term are therefore those...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 - 7:49 AM

The “dynamic scoring” debate is back again. Last week the House Ways and Means Committee—chaired by Dave Camp (R-MI), who also happens to be a member of the debt-limit deal’s “super committee”—held a hearing on the subject, calling on the Joint Committee on Taxation’s chief of staff, economist Tom Barthold, to explain why that committee still estimates the revenue effects of tax legislation using “static” methods.

The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery reported on this “old battle,” wondering out loud whether the super committee will resort to dynamic scoring as a “magic elixir that greases the skids to a more far-reaching compromise.”

Well, unfortunately for certain policymakers, dynamic scoring is not so magical.

“Dynamic scoring” refers to revenue estimates that would be...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - 1:23 PM

The “no new taxes” pledge taken by Republicans in Congress has been a huge obstacle to achieving bipartisan agreement on a comprehensive deficit reduction plan. Many Republicans interpret the pledge as ruling out revenue increases of any kind, even those that close narrow loopholes and special interest deductions. The devotion seems to extend to a “grand bargain” for deficit reduction that would actually enact future cuts in tax rates, but pay for some of the revenue loss from those cuts by limiting deductions and loopholes.

However, it is encouraging that some of the newly appointed Republican members of the debt limit deal’s super committee have already indicated a refreshing openness to considering this approach. Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI) recently told a group of constituents that “tax reform is long overdue” and that he is “not afraid of looking at tax loopholes” in finding common ground on deficit reduction. And, Congressman Dave Camp -- a Republican super committee member from Michigan who also chairs the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee -- when questioned about tax increases has said that “nothing is...

Monday, July 11, 2011 - 10:39 AM

The biggest sticking point in the debt-limit talks has been the disagreement over tax policy. President Obama has been encouraged by his fiscal commission to insist that higher revenues be part of any major deficit-reduction deal -- and to recommend that much of the revenue increase should come from broadening the tax base by reducing "tax expenditures." Although Republicans are coming around to the idea that tax expenditures are just subsidies run through the tax code, many of their leaders stand firm on the position that revenues as a share of the economy not rise from current policy.

While President Obama and other Democrats want revenue increases, they don’t want any changes that would raise taxes on middle class or lower-income households, arguing that such taxes would be overly burdensome and would harm the economic recovery. Meanwhile, Republicans only want reduced tax expenditures to pay for cuts in marginal tax rates, asserting that they would be the path to stronger economic growth and in turn higher revenues.

So both sides are reluctant to change their tax-cutting ways, and they continue to have their own great expectations for tax cuts. But tax cuts don’t always live up to such expectations,...

Monday, May 2, 2011 - 4:52 PM

Elected officials in both parties have made what I call “magical, mystery tax pledges” that are at odds with bipartisan approaches to serious deficit reduction:

  • Republicans: Don’t raise revenue above the 40-year historical average of around 18-19 percent of GDP.
  • Democrats, including President Obama: Don’t raise tax burdens on households making under $250,000 a year.

Some Republicans may not realize how their promise works against not only bipartisan compromise but against their own policy goals. As explained in a recent opinion piece I wrote for Bloomberg Government (subscription-only access here):

“To those on the right holding fast to an 18-19 percent of gross domestic product revenue ceiling, here’s the paradox: Raising more revenue by broadening and leveling the tax base is actually consistent with ‘supply-side’ economic goals. Raising revenue by reducing at least some of the $1 trillion a year in tax breaks and shelters — also known as tax expenditures — and adding on new, broadly defined tax bases would increase, not decrease, the supply of productive resources in our economy…”

Reducing tax expenditures would actually reduce the government’s role in the economy, a central goal...

Monday, April 25, 2011 - 10:25 AM

House Republicans have adopted a budget they say will make tough but necessary spending cuts to rein in our nation’s burgeoning budget deficits. President Obama says the Republican plan is too radical. He hit the road last week to sell his own deficit reduction plan, which he says is more balanced.

So, it’s “game on.”

But just what is the purpose of this game?

If the purpose is to gain advantage for the 2012 elections, then recent events make sense. If, however, the purpose is to build consensus around a fiscal sustainability plan, we’re off on the wrong track. Rather than seeking areas of common ground, which clearly exist, the President and Republican leaders seem more interested in sharpening their differences.

Consider two major issues: tax reform and health care.

In both instances there is the potential for compromise. Indeed, without compromise on health care and taxes, it is hard to see how a meaningful plan for fiscal sustainability can be enacted.

Two bipartisan groups that looked at these issues last year were each able to find consensus, at least around a broad approach.

On tax reform, the Bowles-Simpson and Domenici-Rivlin commissions both recommended that most tax expenditures – deductions, exclusions and credits – be eliminated or greatly scaled back in exchange...

Monday, December 6, 2010 - 11:54 AM

By now we've seen a number of proposals for fiscal sustainability from groups with very different perspectives. Some of the harshest critics of the bipartisan deficit-reduction panels are liberal-leaning groups that argue that the recommendations of the President's commission, as well as those of the Bipartisan Policy Center and the MacGuineas-Galston plan, leaned too heavily toward the conservative side and proposed packages that were too heavy on spending cuts and too insistent on keeping taxes (too) low. (I may agree that I would have preferred more revenue increases in the overall mix than the President's commission proposed, but I don't think that should lead me to declare the overall proposal "dead on arrival" or to reject the the individual policies contained within it.)

I've looked at two...

Monday, September 27, 2010 - 4:50 PM

Last week, House Republicans offered a “Pledge To America” outlining their fiscal priorities and reform ideas. As with most such campaign manifestos, it is long on base-pleasing rhetoric and short on troublesome details.

The document correctly warns about the dire fiscal outlook and the potential dangers of escalating deficits and debt. Conspicuously missing from the Pledge, however, is any plan to bring deficits down to a sustainable level or even to improve upon the deficit projections in the President’s budget. It is worth noting that such a plan has also been missing from Congressional Democrats this year because Congress has failed to pass a budget resolution.

The net effect of the Pledge policies would do very little, if anything, to rein in our long-term structural budget deficits and may well lead to deficits even higher than under the President’s budget.

Not only would the Republicans cut taxes by more than the President, but they would spend more on defense and repeal cost-saving provisions in this year’s health care reform legislation. In theory, lower spending on non-defense discretionary programs would offset some of this. But savings from discretionary programs, which must be enacted on an annual basis, are far less certain than savings from entitlement reforms or tax increases, which operate...

Monday, September 20, 2010 - 10:10 AM

Below are several developments we have been following since the last edition of the Washington Budget Report (sign up here) was published.


FY 2011 REGULAR APPROPRIATIONS: 
With less than two weeks remaining before the beginning of the new fiscal year, Congress has not passed a budget resolution or enacted a single appropriations bill for the coming year.   The House has passed a deeming resolution which could be used to pass the appropriations bills, though the Senate has not passed a similar measure.  Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee completed action on the legislative branch and defense bills. ...