So far, President Obama and Speaker John Boehner aren’t negotiating a way to rein in budget deficits in private this time. They’re negotiating in the press, and Obama is taking the hardest line.
While Boehner has signaled a willingness to increase tax revenue by limiting and eliminating deductions rather than by raising tax rates, Obama says his idea of compromise is to do both. He wants $1.6 trillion in new revenues over the next decade, which is double what he and Boehner nearly agreed to do during the 2011 debt-ceiling talks.
Virtually all of this new revenue would come from high earners: individuals making more than $200,000 or couples making more than $250,000. Raising their tax rates and capping their itemized deductions is estimated to bring in more than $1.43 trillion. The “Buffett Rule” would tack on another $47 billion, bringing the tab to $1.48 trillion for those at the top of what’s already the most progressive tax system in the industrialized world.
Obama is so committed to his position that his spokesman says the president will veto any tax bill that leaves rates intact for the top two income-tax brackets (currently 33 percent and 35 percent). The rates for these brackets are scheduled to expire Jan. 1 and rise to 36 percent and 39.6 percent, respectively. Problem is, the current rates for everyone else are also scheduled to expire Jan. 1.
You gotta love Obama and the Democrats. They care so much about the middle class that they will let middle-class tax rates rise, if that’s what it takes to stick it to “the rich.” Somehow, though, Obama succeeded in making a majority of the electorate believe it’s the GOP that is holding the middle class hostage by insisting on keeping all rates the same next year.
It is ludicrous to claim Republicans are playing tax-rate chicken more than the president. In fact, it’s closer to the opposite, because Boehner is saying he’s willing to raise revenues, just not in the same way as the president. Obama is not only insisting on his end but his means — and saying everyone will feel the pain if he doesn’t get both.
It’s ludicrous, but . . .
It’s also brilliant politics. Obama knows voters gave him the benefit of the doubt and that he’s got limited time to take advantage of that (as all second-term presidents do, particularly those whose party doesn’t control Congress). However, he may be able to turn it into a longer-term advantage with this little two-step:
1. Force House Republicans to accept higher taxes on “the rich” before Jan. 1 on high earners to stave off tax hikes on everyone else, for which he knows Republicans know they would be blamed; and then
2. When the GOP comes back next year seeking spending cuts and structural changes to entitlements as their part of the “balanced” “compromise” Obama keeps insisting he wants, he can either tell them to take a hike or make a deal that puts all the onus for unpopular cuts on Republicans. (I’m sorry, my fellow Americans, but just to get the rich to pay their Fair Share, those evil Republicans insisted on ending Medicare as we know it…)
Some of you will say I’m making the president out to be unserious about our fiscal challenges. To you I say: No, his two campaigns and first term revealed him to be that way.
After all, that’s the only way to explain a proposal that raises an average of $160 billion more per year — when the deficit last month alone rose to $120 billion — while double-counting spending cuts such as those for ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (decisions that were already made and thus don’t represent new savings) and seeking to increase expand spending (er, “investments”) in certain favored areas.
What we’re really seeing here
So, to Obama, this clearly is more about good politics than good policy. The House GOP should respond in kind.
It should pass the “Buffett Rule” bill that failed to pass the Senate in April, amended to include an extension of all current tax rates through 2013, as a down payment. While the Buffett Rule is projected to raise $47 billion during the next decade if the current tax rates for high earners are not extended, I’ve seen projections of more than $160 billion in 10 years if rates don’t rise. That’s an increase of approximately $16 billion next year, and it comes from real millionaires — not Obama’s “millionaire” couples who earn $250,00 a year.
Given the support for Obama in America’s wealthiest counties, not to mention Hollywood, I’d chalk this up to a paraphrase of Mencken: It appears the truly rich know what they want, and they deserve to get it good and hard.
At the same time, House Republicans should introduce a bill outlining the deductions-cutting approach for which Boehner has expressed support. Many deductions represent subsidies that are merely located in the tax code rather than an appropriations bill, and this approach allows Republicans to talk about the importance of getting government out of private decision-making without reducing incentives to work, save and invest (by increasing marginal tax rates). I’d go ahead and include a corresponding reduction in tax rates but make clear that’s negotiable, depending on what happens on the spending side.
What might this look like? Capping deductions at $50,000 a year would, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, raise almost $750 billion over 10 years, with about 80 percent of that money coming from the top 1 percent of earners. The change in the average tax payment for the three lowest income quintiles would range from zero to $12 a year. Again, this approach does not leave taxes on “the rich” intact.
Your turn, Democrats
For now, that’s it. Dare Senate Democrats not to pass, and president to veto, a bill that includes their cherished Buffett Rule, just because it also keeps all tax rates in place for one more year while the two sides negotiate further. Further call their bluff with that second bill to raise even more revenue, almost all of it from the very highest earners, in the most economically sound way. Then, explain you’re looking forward to tackling the country’s real fiscal problems next year, and adjourn.
And leave it to Harry Reid and President Obama to explain to 99 percent of tax filers why their taxes are going up so that taxes can rise even more on the top 1 percent.
– By Kyle Wingfield