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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 28, 2009 7:58 AM. The previous post in this blog was Guess who isn't getting laid off. The next post in this blog is Atrazine update. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Worrying about Obama's tax agenda

One of the things that most heartened me about Obama's victory last November was his promise to make progressive changes to the federal tax laws. Under his administration, he said, the most egregious of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy would be rolled back or allowed to expire. Particularly for taxpayers making more than $250,000 a year, we were told, taxes were going to go up. The estate tax on wealthy Americans was going to be reinstated on a permanent basis, and several key loopholes in that tax were going to be closed.

I fully support these principles. Under Bush the Younger, the rich made out like bandits. Take the income tax rate on dividends on corporate stock, for example. Before Bush stole the 2000 election, the top rate on that kind of income -- for the $350,000-and-up crowd -- was 39.6 percent. Within a few years, Bush and his pals in Congress had whacked it down to 15 percent. That's a nice deal for those fortunate enough to be able to live off dividends and never go to work -- you know, some of the same people who are now suddenly screaming about the deficit as the reason to do nothing toward health care reform....

Forgive the digression. The point is that Obama was going to make important changes to the revenue laws and set the tax system on a new course.

But now we have a problem, Houston. It's the end of August, and Congress doesn't seem to be anywhere near discussing the nuts and bolts of tax reform. Washington is completely engrossed in the health care war, and it doesn't seem to have an attention span for anything else. By the time there's room on their plate for taxes, the folks in Congress will be racing to get a budget passed, and who knows what else they'll be dealing with -- a swine flu scare or worse, maybe a bomb going off somewhere, another banking crisis -- the parade of horribles is long.

The murmurs we hear are to the effect that there isn't going to be any major, permanent tax reform this year -- that a set of gimmicky one-year "patches" will be enacted, extending a bunch of tax giveaways that are about to expire for another year, and maybe taking a bigger bite out of the rich, but only on a temporary basis. And according to some, even this weak a law won't pass until so late in the year that it will wreak havoc at the IRS, who will have an impossible task getting the tax forms published in time for tax season. The IRS might have to rewrite some of the forms even after they've been distributed because Congress may act so late. A serious, long-term tax bill, some tax pundits are saying, will have to wait until next year.

Now, that's a real problem. Next year will be an election year for the entire House and more than a third of the Senate. It's not impossible, but it's awfully hard, to get serious tax reform measures passed in election years. For example, Bush was smart enough to get his tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003, when new Congresses were sitting. And this time we're talking tax increases, not decreases. By the time we get into 2010, there will be blood on the Capitol floor from the health care throwdown, and you can bet that out on the hustings this year's death panel screamers will be next year's tax increase screamers. In short, from a political standpoint, 2009 would be a better bet than 2010 for Obama's tax legislation, but the opportunity may be slipping away.

The month of September will tell us a lot. But if we wind up with crumbs on health care and little on taxes this year, a lot of people who worked really hard for change a year ago are going to be mighty disappointed, if not downright angry.

Comments (29)

What did you expect? Obama is a politician and every politician makes promises they never intended to keep. If they did actually intend to keep them at the time of their election..well the corruption in politics quickly changes their mind.

I wonder if you're overlooking a significant local angle to federal tax reform. I'd be willing to bet that a large segment of Portland's touted "creative class" is living on trust fund income. So if the dividend tax goes up 250%, Portland takes a disproportionately hard hit.

Mr. Obama and his camp did a terrible job of laying out his health care reform package to the public. If he adopts the same method for tax system changes you can expect no more.

So just like you're not surprised at Randy dropping the f-bomb, why should I be surprised at a Congress that is more blue than ever that can't get anything meaningful done?

I look forward to several zillion hours of witch-hunts on C-SPAN as elections draw near and senators/reps need cover.

Until the dimmo party purges the entrenched conservatives out, by endorsing and financing challengers, nothing will change. Reid, Pelosi, Feinstein, and our beloved Wyden must be outed in the senate . Baucus and his ilk, in the house the same.

You really only have one chance to exploit an approval rating as high as Obama had about 6 months ago. Unfortunately he chose to shoot his load over health reform. Tax reform will never happen before 2012.

KISS, here's a news flash: Pelosi is in the House; Baucus, the Senate.

Details aside, it's hard to blame an incumbent president for a system in which, having been elected with a decisive majority and enjoying very high approval ratings, he has only five or six months to clean up an unprecedented mess that's been at least fifteen years in the making.

Tax increases now, even on the wealthy, would encounter a rational argument that they will impede economic recovery or exacerbate the economic downturn. Maybe a kind of "sunset" legislation could be considered in which the current tax breaks for the rich could just expire after a time. Oh, wait . . . .

When the economy pulled a Thelma and Louise last fall it changed the landscape. I have no problem with Health Care as the first line item of debate. In fact, Health Care could have been a slam-dunk. He did not learn from the CLinton debacle. While Clinton's plan was rigid and unyielding in its deployment, Obama's is vague, sketchy, and open to interpretation. A total disaster. I dare say it's reflective of his (and his staff's) lack of experience with the Washington D.C. culture. Bit of a learning curve ahead, but I think he'll get it.

Before Bush stole the 2000 election

Do you really believe that?

Jack: Bush 43 lowered cap gains from 20% to 15%. It pays to verify as we age.

http://www.ctj.org/pdf/regcg.pdf

Obama severely damaged his creds with me when he backed off his stand for taking a lions share of the tax expenditure resulting from allowing employees to receive employer-paid health care benefits tax-free. That would provide up to 2.5 trillion current dollars over 10 years to help keep 2010 style health care reform revenue neutral.

The guy spent major political capital getting the stimulus through (and thank goodness for that). He's taking big political risks trying to get Afghanistan back on course (whether you agree with it or not, his policy there matches with his campaign promises). And of course he is deep in the fryer on health insurance reform, which has only been the chief Democratic Party initiative for more than a generation. And you think he ought to get major tax reform passed this year? One is tempted to borrow from Barney Frank and ask, upon what planet do you spend most of your time? The White House announced a tax-reform task group, led by Paul Volcker, in March this year. A deadline of December 4 was set for their recommendations. It was obvious then that tax reform wasn't going to happen this year. To try to push for it would be pointless and ultimately disastrous.

It was obvious then that tax reform wasn't going to happen this year. To try to push for it would be pointless and ultimately disastrous.

Ah, but that won't stop this bunch. Why would they quit now while they're on such a roll.

For some reason, I believe they (Rahmbo particularly) don't find the prospect of disaster for us to be disastrous for them.

Just sayin'

Thank God for the stimulus? I feel stimulated alright. A mere 10% has been allocated of which a very conservative estimate, oh 10 - 30%, has been misdirected. No big surprise here looking at the cash for clunkers rebate process as a nice recent model to evaluate government efficiency. Feel free to cite any examples that would not lead me to believe otherwise.

When you'all cram the health care "reform" down out throats, I bet I won't be the first one to yell, "I told you so." While I agree with much of your ideals here, I whole-heartedly disagree with your policy decisions and how you go about implementing them. The government cannot run anything efficiently or honestly if politics is in the middle of every decision point. Only answer is to get them the hell out as much as possible.

The government cannot run anything efficiently or honestly if politics is in the middle of every decision point. Only answer is to get them the hell out as much as possible.

And yet, the minute we move toward Nazi techniques, you guys start with the yelling and the screaming. We can't win.

Jack: As a tax guru, you should know better. If the Bush tax cuts were rescinded, the income tax rates would become less progressive, not more. And as far as the dividend tax rate is concerned, the cut in the top rate from 20% to 15%, resulted in a dramatic increase in dividend tax receipts (remember the one-time mega dividend from Microsoft?). The dividend rate on lower income taxpayers dropped from 5% to 0% last year, benefiting many lower income senior citizens living on fixed incomes.

The statistics from the IRS clearly show that the wealthy are carrying a much large share of the income tax burden than they were in the heydays of Jimmy Carter and 70% tax rates.

As a tax guru, you should know better.

You need to lay off the ad hominem stuff if you want to continue to regurgitate KXL on this site.

I know what I'm talking about. Although Bush added a 10% bottom bracket, which Obama would retain, he cut the top brackets. Obama promised to restore them.

The dividend rate on lower income taxpayers dropped from 5% to 0% last year, benefiting many lower income senior citizens living on fixed incomes.

Complete and utter balderdash. Please, save Grandma for your death panel shrieking.

the wealthy are carrying a much large share of the income tax burden than they were in the heydays of Jimmy Carter and 70% tax rates.

Yes, and that's because they're hogging a much larger share of the income as well. Do you want to go back to the Carter years' wealth distribution as well? Didn't think so.

The rich need to pay more, and they will. I'm sorry that you don't like that. There are other countries you can exptariate yourself to if it becomes too much to bear.

Jack: Bush 43 lowered cap gains from 20% to 15%.

Dividends were not capital gains until Bush. And therefore Bush lowered the rate on those from 39.6% to 15%.

It pays to verify as we age.

It pays to stay silent when one is ignorant.

Hogging a much larger share of the income as well?

You write as if income is some pie!

Jack, if all income were a pie and you and I each got half it would be fair, right? Now, if I worked extra hard/smart/took risks/invented or built a new pie machine, whatever, and I was able to create an additional pie and you got one quarter of it but I hogged 1.25 pies I would be "hogging" even though you now have .75 pies instead of your original half pie, right? Even if I got the entire new pie and you still had your half pie it would be just.

Instead, you want to tax my new pie so we are back to each having a half pie. Why would I bother making the new pie machine?

Back off. I'm not the one raised the "percentage of the whole" argument -- I merely responded to it.

The rich pay most of the taxes because the rich make most of the income.

Many of them are selfish people who hog resources.

Want to get a bill through Congress?

Fashion bi-partisan legislation and entitle it the Jack Kemp Tax Simplification and Reform Act of 2010.

And while you're doing that don't slip back towards double taxation of dividends. Re-jigger marginal rates, hurting the rich to some degree but putting people back on the rolls so essentially all have a stake in the game no matter how small. Dump all the AMT and deduction limitation stuff. Drop the REIT model that forces profits (OK cash flow) to be disgorged to avoid taxation. Did we really need to encourage leverage in commercial real estate? Do we really want a tax structure that favors debt to equity financing?

If that doesn't stir things up enough, talk about phasing out the home mortgage interest deduction, and then drop that phase out to protect the sacred cow.

Want to get a bill through Congress?

Fashion bi-partisan legislation

Should not be necessary this time around. But some of the Democrats (like Ron Wyden) are really Republicans in sheep's clothing. "Fashion legislation that cowers before the rich people" is more like it.

Uh, Grady, did you know that there is a Democratic majority in Congress, both houses? Your proposals have about as much chance of getting a committee hearing as I have of getting a date with Jessica Alba. And in your case, the odds should be that long.

Higher taxes on the rich will not kill innovation and enterprise. The real innovators are people who love what they do and are obsessed by an idea, not by making a ton of money. That they get rich is a side benefit.

In addition, if you are taxed at a higher rate, you are going to have to work smarter and harder and more creatively to make the same amount of income.

Everyone should pay more taxes . . . except for Charlie Rangel and me.

Let's bury the "we're all equal, so those who generate more income are reaping the benefit of their greater risk-taking, greater intelligence, etc." argument for shaping tax policy. That's all fine, well and good if we are all similarly situated, but that isn't the case in an America where the disparity of wealth between the top 1% and the rest of us is greater than it was during the Roaring 20s.

I'll leave aside the whole notion of inherited wealth and the nauseating corollary of Americans being born on third base thinking they hit a triple. Let's just focus on income earners.

If the last decade has taught us anything, it's that the mega-rich have stacked the economic deck so that when they take a risk and it pays off, they take a huge slice of the pie. But when they take a huge risk and it fails, they don't experience the downside.

Take Bob Nardelli as the poster child for this kind of behavior. The guy does well at GE, takes over Home Depot and runs it into the ground for seven years (while taking over $200 million out in compensation!!!!), and gets rewarded for his abysmal performance by becoming the head of Chrysler . . . which tanks shortly thereafter. But he still rakes in millions, taken care of by fellow CEO-types who sit on his companies' boards. I don't begrudge him his success at GE, but why on earth should we care if this guy has a top tax rate under 40% or that his dividends are taxed at 15%? And yet if you buy the "split the pie" argument, Nardelli is simply earning more than the rest of us because he's so darn entrepreneurial. He isn't - he treated HD as his own private piggy-bank for years and was richly rewarded for it.

The "split the pie" argument is fine if you're comparing apples to apples - someone who does a great job and earns $100K a year shouldn't be taxed that much higher than another person in the same field who is OK and earns $75K - and isn't under the current system. But Nardelli and his ilk who make more in a year than most of us will earn in a lifetime need to be taxed at a higher marginal rate.

'It pays to stay silent when one is ignorant."

Point well taken, I apologizr for my impertinence..

As a point of information, however, Bush 43 lowered tax rates only on "quqlified" dividends--not all dividends.

Obama has been a big disappointment.

Turns out he's just another cog in the big wheel, just pandering to a different segment of the American population.

Some 'minor' fixes, nothing to change the course of history,

He even lied about getting out of Iraq.

Bush 43 lowered tax rates only on "quqlified" dividends--not all dividends.

Any dividend on a U.S. stock, or even on a foreign stock if bought on a U.S. exchange, is qualified. Please, quit while you are ahead.

Executive compensation.. woo hoo.... so most of these execs, in fact, take no personal financial risks (as in they are not working for start-ups that they self funded) and get lots of perks and don't work as nearly hard as the first line of supervisors and managers in their companies.

http://www.aflcio.org/corporatewatch/paywatch/ceou/top100.cfm

So the CEO of AIG got 17+ million in 2008 for losing lots money. Nice. BTW that's over $8000 an hour and that's kind of obscene knowing that my tax dollars made it possible.

Frankly, I'd like to see the entire compensation scheme for execs to change. First off, stock options are gone. This form of compensation leads to all kinds of financial monkey business and long term mismanagement so that the short term profitability of a company looks great so stock prices go up and options are worth a lot. But it's a lot like the old deferred maintenance syndrome in apt. buildings. Take the cash out now and run down the value of the holding so that it costs a lot much later on to restore it.

What did we expect? "The rich" don't present a large enough tax base to finance the kind of spending that Obama is proposing. Sooner or later, his Chavez-esque tax policies are going to come back to bite the poor (think cap and trade).


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