In “The Path to Prosperity,” House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan makes it clear that tax increases will not be part of the solution to the nation’s fiscal problems. He intends to address the problem solely through budget cuts, most of them focused on programs affecting the elderly, the sick and the poor. After all, that’s where the money is in the federal budget, especially when you exempt the Pentagon from spending cuts, as Ryan proposes to do.
“The U.S. government is not running sustained deficits because Americans are taxed too little,” the plan states. “The government is running deficits because it spends too much.”
However, that sentiment doesn’t mean that Ryan intends to leave the tax code untouched. Among other things, he proposes to reduce the number of tax brackets from the current six, which would make the income tax flatter and less progressive. He also intends to lower the top tax bracket on individuals and corporations from the current 35 percent to 25 percent.
Inevitably, such changes would have the effect of lowering taxes on corporations and the wealthy, while shifting more of the burden to working and middle-class Americans. When combined with the payroll tax, which Ryan concedes is a surtax on earned income below $106,000, a large number of working class and middle-class Americans would probably end up paying a significantly higher percentage of their income in federal taxes than their wealthier counterparts.
I say “probably” because as far as I can tell, Ryan hasn’t released specifics of his tax reform proposal to the public. He did, however, provide considerable detail to the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis to allow it to project the economic impact of the proposed changes. So let’s see what they have to say.
Overall, Heritage projects, the Ryan budget proposal would produce an outcome that frankly would be nothing short of miraculous, including an increase in economic output of $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. That in turn would help drive down the federal deficit considerably.
But how real is it? Unlike projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Heritage analysis relies on what is called “dynamic scoring.” In other words, it programs its computer models to assume that tax cuts on the wealthy and corporations produce enormous economic growth.
For example, let’s take a look at what dynamic scoring does to the projected unemployment rate. The CBO projects that the unemployment rate next year will average 8.4 percent. The Heritage Foundation, using dynamic scoring, projects that if the Ryan plan passes, unemployment would plummet next year to 6.4 percent.
By 2015, the CBO projects, unemployment will be down to 5.9 percent. Under the Ryan plan, Heritage projects it will fall to a remarkable 4.0 percent, declining still further to 2.8 percent in 2021.
Who believes that? Nobody believes that. In fact, those projections are so embarrassingly absurd that Heritage itself has gone back into its study and removed them. They were there in the version I downloaded yesterday; they are gone from the version available today.
In this case, Heritage can make ridiculous claims for the economic benefits of Ryan’s plan — claims that help account for the supposed deficit reduction — without fear of those claims being tested against reality. Nobody believes that the plan will ever be adopted.
Ten years ago, however, the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis ran similar projections for President Bush’s plan to cut taxes, using the same computer model it used to analyze Ryan’s plan.
Heritage claimed that if the Bush tax cuts were approved, the economy would grow so quickly that by 2010, the entire federal debt would effectively be eliminated.
Not only that, “The plan would save the entire Social Security surplus and increase personal savings while the federal government accumulated $1.8 trillion in uncommitted funds from FY 2008 to FY 2011, revenue that could be used to reform the Social Security and Medicare systems and reduce the payroll tax,” Heritage claimed.
– Jay Bookman