What Ever Happened to Fiscally Responsible Tax Reform?

 

“I think this level of national debt is dangerous and unacceptable. My preference on tax reform is that it be revenue neutral.  What I’m hoping we will avoid is a trillion dollar stimulus.  Take you back to 2009.  We borrowed $1 trillion and nobody could find that it did much of anything.  So we need to do this carefully and correctly, and the issue of how to pay for it needs to be dealt with responsibly”

Senator Mitch McConnell (R, KY), 2016

Here is where we are today:

  • The world has seen remarkable human progress over the past 200 years. What has brought this about is specialization and trade, i.e. economic growth.
  • Since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009, economic growth in the U.S. has averaged just 2.1%, a remarkably slow recovery by historical standards. This has led to stagnant wage growth especially for blue collar workers. Finally growth is up over 3% for the past two quarters and wage growth is surging.
  • The U.S. corporate tax rate at 35% is not internationally competitive and encourages multinational corporations to move their operations overseas. A lower rate of 20% or so would encourage U.S. multinationals to bring their profits home and also encourage foreign companies to set up shop in the U.S.
  • What all of this means is that we still need tax reform (i.e. lower tax rates) but not fiscal stimulus.
  • The Republican tax plan now moving through Congress will increase our already outrageously excessive debt by $1 trillion over ten years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the official scorekeeper for the U.S. Senate.
  • The Republican Congress will be making a huge mistake by implementing the current plan which has now passed both the House and the Senate. The GOP will no longer be able to make a credible case that it is the party of fiscal responsibility.

Conclusion. With a (public, on which we pay interest) debt of $15 trillion, and growing rapidly, the U.S. is approaching fiscal insolvency. The Republican tax plan will add an additional $1 trillion to this debt over the next ten years.  This is unconscionable behavior.

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A Breath of Fresh Air

 

U.S. Representative David Camp (R, Michigan), Chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means, has just introduced the “Tax Reform Act of 2014” and describes it in a column in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, “How to Fix Our Appalling Tax Code”.  This legislation, developed over the past three years by the committee he chairs, has lots of attractive features.  Mainly, however, it would give the economy a substantial boost.  Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that it would increase GDP by $3.4 trillion over the next ten years and create 1.8 million new jobs.
CaptureIt will accomplish this goal by trimming or eliminating tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthy in order to reduce tax rates for almost everyone.  For example, the home mortgage deduction will be cut, for new homeowners, from the current value of $1,000,000 to $500,000.  The deduction for state and local taxes will be eliminated.  The charitable deduction will only apply for contributions in excess of 2% of income.  The middle class is protected by raising the standard deduction to $11,000 per individual or $22,000 per couple.  This means that 95% of taxpayers will be able to avoid itemizing.
The two basic tax rates would be 10% up to $75,000 in income, then 25% up to $400,000.  Over $400,000 there would be a 10% surcharge on salaried or “non-production” income.  The corporate tax rate would be cut from 35% to 25%, again by eliminating special exemptions and loopholes.
All of these features add up to a dramatic simplification of our tax code which will save an estimated $168 billion annually in preparation fees.
But always keep in mind the larger purpose of broad based tax reform like this.  In the words of the economist Glenn Hubbard, it is “a policy shift in favor of mass prosperity – dynamism and inclusion.”  It will do more for the poor than raising the minimum wage because it will actually create new jobs and better paying jobs.
This legislation represents a fantastic starting point for a national discussion on pro-growth tax reform.  Let’s get on with it!