So tax season can go on. The IRS will have to activate some of the “reserved” boxes on its forms, but with the passage of HR 8 yesterday, filing season should be able to continue without catastrophic disruption. I summarized the key pieces yesterday here.
So what did they accomplish? They permanently “patched” the alternative minimum tax, and that is a real accomplishment. Far better to repeal a deeply dishonest tax, but at least now they have stopped placing a time bomb in the tax law set to go off every year or two.
They raised the top marginal rate on “the rich” to something over 40%, with a stated top rate of 39.6% and the dishonest phase-outs of itemized deductions and personal exemptions. They redefined “rich” as single filers with incomes over $400,000 and married taxpayers over $450,000.
They raised the top dividend and capital gain rate to something over 24%, taking into account the 3.8% Obamacare levy, the 20% rate on the rich, as newly defined, and the phase-outs of deductions and personal exemptions. In doing so, they left the top rate at 15% (or 18.8%) for other taxpayers.
They delivered another kick in the teeth to successful entrepreneurs. Taxpayers who operate successfully as pass-through entities represent much of the income hit by the new tax rates, and much of business income in general. They have that much less after tax income to take chances on new locations, new employees, new products. That means there will be less of all of these.
Most people don’t realize just how big a part of the economy pass-throughs run by “the rich” are. This might give you an idea:
This isn’t exactly going to help hiring.
They once again passed the dishonest batch of “expiring provisions.” These provisions, from the windmill subsidy and research credits to special breaks for speedways, are passed with annual expiration dates, enabling the politicians to pretend that they are temporary so they don’t have to face the real costs of these breaks for their freinds.
What they failed to accomplish is just as important. They failed to pass the wretched ideas of dollar caps on itemized deductions or a limit on the rate benefit of the deductions. They failed to apply the top rates to incomes of $200,000 and up, which was their initial plan.
Most importantly, they utterly failed to address the ongoing fiscal catastrophe. The new revenues will barely touch the $1.2 trillion annual deficit. It’s not clear whether there will even be any deficit reduction when all of the pieces of the deal are added together. That means we careen almost immediately to a new debt-ceiling battle and ultimately to a confrontation with arithmetic.
Perhaps that will ultimately be the benefit of this deal, though not one that is intended. The President finally got his tax hikes on “millionaires and billionaires,” and they won’t do a thing to deal with the fiscal crisis. If people finally realize that the choice is between bringing spending and entitlements under control or higher taxes on everybody, there might actually be some value to this mess. After all, the rich guy isn’t buying.
Fiscal Cliff Notes
TaxProf, House Approves Fiscal Cliff Tax Deal
Tyler Cowen, Ross Douthat asks
If a newly re-elected Democratic president can’t muster the political will and capital required to do something as straightforward and relatively popular as raising taxes on the tiny fraction Americans making over $250,000 when those same taxes are scheduled to go up already, then how can Democrats ever expect to push taxes upward to levels that would make our existing public programs sustainable for the long run?
Greg Mankiw, President rejects his bipartisan commission
Stephen Entin, Measuring the Economic and Distributional Effects of the Final Fiscal Cliff Bill (Tax Policy Blog)
Howard Gleckman, Congress Kicks the Fiscal Can off the Front Stoop (TaxVox)
William Perez,House Approves the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012
Journal of Accountacy, Congress passes fiscal cliff act
Paul Neiffer, Some Major Tax “Goodies” in Senate Bill For Farmers!
Robert D. Flach, SURPRISE! SURPRISE! SURPRISE!
Joseph Thorndike, Is Obama the Worst Legislative Negotiator of the Last Century?
Finally, this from Daniel Shaviro, a tax man of the left, on the fiscal cliff and the larger budget picture:
The biggest problem, as others have noted, is that Obama appears to be a once-in-a-generation lame and inept bargainer, who can take even a strong hand and not get all that much, because he is so predictably ready to fold. But again this is not mainly an issue about the New Year’s Eve deal itself, which is more or less defensible as a one-off solution. Rather, it’s about the debt ceiling crisis to come in a few weeks.
That is the one that really counts. I think the Administration should play that, not merely as hard as they are saying they will now, but about 20 levels harder. I would not just refuse to negotiate, but would have Administration officials use words such as treason, sabotage, and terrorism.
Mr. Shaviro is a very bright man. He knows that the present fiscal course is unsustainable. The solutions are some mix of spending less or taxing more. If a guy that smart is ready to equate “spending less” with “treason, sabotage and terrorism,” the debate will get very ugly. Maybe we aren’t far behind Argentina and Greece.