From The Progress Report:
Yesterday, President Obama announced a tentative deal with congressional Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans for two years in exchange for a 13-month extension in unemployment benefits and other tax benefits for American workers. Given the fact that Republicans had indicated that they will not compromise on their desire to extend the costly tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the President decided to get a deal done now to avoid an economic hit to the middle class during this holiday season. “I’m not willing to let working families across this country become collateral damage for political warfare here in Washington,” Obama said in a statement. “Sympathetic as I am to those who prefer a fight over compromise, as much as the political wisdom may dictate fighting over solving problems, it would be the wrong thing to do.” Despite Republican wrangling over the past two years about deficit spending and debt, the New York Times reports that the entire package “would cost about $900 billion over the next two years, to be financed entirely by adding to the national debt.” However, “[o]n balance,” CAP President and CEO John Podesta said in a statement, “I think the President was right to choose helping working Americans over a December conflagration. But the question hanging over Washington and the country today is how will he avoid repeating the same scenario being played out again and again for the next two years? That’s a question that’s keeping me awake at night.”
From the Economist’s View:
Here are the details of the agreement on the Bush tax cuts:
1) The Bush tax cuts get extended for two years — with one ugly surprise: For the next two years, estates up to $5,000,000 will be protected from the estate tax, and the tax rate for the few estates that are taxed will be 35 percent. … The difference in expected revenue between the 2009 levels and the compromise levels is $10 billion or so.
2) The refundable tax credits are extended: The Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit were all pumped up in the stimulus, but set to expire this year. All of them will be extended. Price tag? $40 billion or so.
3) Unemployment insurance gets extended for 13 months: … In perhaps the most important part of the deal, there’s going to be a 13-month extension at a cost of $56 billion.
4) A 2 percent cut in the payroll taxes paid by employees: This is perhaps the most unexpected part of the compromise. Rather than extending the administration’s Making Work Pay tax credit for two years, which would’ve been worth about $60 billion a year, they’ve agreed to a one-year cut in the payroll taxes paid by employees, which’ll raise $120 billion in 2011. …
5) Business expensing: Remember back in September, when the White House announced a proposal to give businesses two years in which they could deduct 100 percent of the cost of new investments? That’s in the deal, too. The cost of this is a bit complicated — it’s $30 billion over 10 years, but it works by offering huge tax cuts in the next two years and then paying that back over the next eight. …
On net, the package probably adds around $200 billion in new stimulus for the economy, maybe a bit more. Notice, however, that it is entirely tax cuts.
The estate tax and the extension of high end tax cuts are causing the most heated reactions, and the payroll tax cut is generally being applauded. But I see the payroll tax reduction as potentially troublesome as well. Though the revenue the Social Security system loses due to the tax cut will be backfilled from general revenues, the worry is that the tax cut will not expire as scheduled — temporary tax cuts have a way of turning permanent. That’s especially true in this case since labor markets are very unlikely to recover within the next year and it will be easy to argue against the scheduled “tax increase” for workers. In fact, it will never be a good time to increase taxes on workers and if the tax cut is extended once, as it’s likely to be, it will be hard to ever increase it back to where it was. That endangers Social Security funding — relying on general revenue transfers sets the system up for cuts down the road — and for that reason I would have preferred that this be enacted in a way that produces the same outcome, but has different political optics. That is, leave the payroll tax at 6% on the books and keep sending the money to Social Security, and fund a 2% tax “rebate” out of general revenues. The rebate would come, technically, as a payment from general revenues rather than through a cut in the payroll tax, but in the end the effect would be identical. But the technicality is important since it preserves the existing funding mechanism for Social Security even if the taxes are permanently extended.
From the Economist’s View:
Republicans are selling snake oil once again:
Some Republican Senate candidates have suggested that extending the Bush tax cuts — which are scheduled to expire at the end of the year — will actually be good for the country’s bottom line, as the economic growth that results will more than offset the trillions of dollars in lost revenue. “By extending tax cuts you pay down the deficit, you grow the economy by giving people more money,” said Colorado Republican Ken Buck.
Today, on Fox News Sunday, Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate nominee Pat Toomey joined this club, telling Fox’s Chris Wallace that “it’s not clear” that extending the Bush tax cuts — while also lowering the corporate tax rate — would increase the deficit…
But, of course, the Bush tax cuts did not even come close to paying for themselves. The Bush tax cuts cost us around $1.7 trillion in revenue from 2001 through 2008, in part because of weak output and job growth following the cuts (contrary to assertions about how the tax cuts would stimulate economic growth).
From Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Off the Charts Blog – Posted by Chuck Marr:
Enough Is Enough on Tax Cuts for Wealthy
September 27, 2010
In yesterday’s New York Times, Richard Thaler, one of the nation’s top economists, neatly refuted the arguments for borrowing tens of billions of dollars each year to keep President Bush’s tax cuts flowing to the most affluent 2 percent of people in the country. He then posed a central question: “whether we want a society in which the rich take an ever-increasing share of the pie, or prefer to return to conditions that allow all classes to anticipate an increasing standard of living.”
As I’ve noted before, over the last three decades a stunning shift in income has taken place in this country, from the middle class to those few at the very top of the income scale. Back in 1979, the middle 20 percent of Americans had more than twice as large a share of the nation’s total after-tax income as the top 1 percent. But by 2007, the top 1 percent’s slice of the economic pie had more than doubled and in fact exceeded the middle class’s slice, which had shrunk.
This great income shift means the average middle-income American family had about $9,000 less after-tax income in 2007, and an average household in the top 1 percent had $741,000 more, than they would have had if the 1979 income distribution had remained. Here’s how this looks in graph and table form:
Fully two-thirds of the income gains in the last economic expansion (2001-2007) flowed to just the top 1 percent. This is not a healthy sign for a society. As Professor Thaler urges, we need to decide whether we want to promote still-greater inequality (by extending the high-income tax cuts) or lean against this trend. Each year the average millionaire gets about $125,000 from the Bush tax cuts, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. Now seems to be a good time to say enough is enough.
From the Economist’s View:
Bruce Bartlett notes that the Bush tax cuts did little to stimulate growth, and that tax cuts of this type are very poor at what we need the most right now, countercyclical stabilization:
Bush Tax Cuts Had Little Positive Impact on Economy, by Bruce Bartlett, Commentary, Fiscal Times: Republicans are heavily invested in permanently extending the tax cuts enacted during the George W. Bush administration, all of which expire at the end of this year exactly as the legislation was written in the first place. To hear Republicans, one would think that the Bush tax cuts were the most powerful stimulus to growth ever enacted and only a madman would even think of allowing any of them to expire.
The truth is that there is virtually no evidence in support of the Bush tax cuts as an economic elixir. To the extent that they had any positive effect on growth, it was very, very modest. Their main effect was simply to reduce the government’s revenue, thereby increasing the budget deficit, which all Republicans claim to abhor.