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Grover Norquist, The GOP, And The Payroll Tax Cut

For the last day or so, a few of us have been trying to get Grover Norquist’s group to say whether GOP opposition to extending the payroll tax cut — which Obama wants — constitutes a “tax increase” and a violation of Norquist’s infamous anti-tax pledge.

Norquist’s spokesman is now clarifying that the group isn’t yet willing to say.

Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes has been signed by virtually every Republican in Congress, and Norquist has clearly stated that the failure to extend the Bush tax cuts would constitute a “tax increase.” The question now is this: With Republicans now opposing an extension of the payroll tax cut, which impacts workers but not employers, will Norquist’s group also declare the GOP opposition tantamount to a tax increase that violates the pledge?

John Kartch, a spokesman for Americans for Tax Reform, tells me that “one would have to see the final legislation” before making the call one way or the other, in order to determine ”what is the net effect on total taxes.”

The problem here, though, is that this doesn’t deal with the possibility of the payroll tax cut simply expiring through Congress doing nothing. If Congress doesn’t extend the payroll tax cut, as Republicans want, it will simply expire on January 1st.

So it’s fair to ask whether Norquist’s group — which wields great influence over Republicans in Congress — thinks that Republicans who favor doing nothing and letting the payroll tax cut expire are hiking taxes and violating the group’s pledge. And for now, the group isn’t prepared to say.

By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post Plum Line, August 23, 2011

August 24, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Minimum Wage, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Evasion, Tax Increases, Tax Liabilities, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Wealthy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident”: Real Patriots Pay Taxes

Some of our nation’s biggest corporations are planning a tax holiday and they want you to pick up the tab.

Actually, you already pay for their routine tax avoidance through the use of tax havens in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and elsewhere. These accounting acrobatics cost the U.S. Treasury $100 billion a year. Now they want Congress to pass a special tax holiday for money they “repatriate” back to the United States.

There’s nothing patriotic about this repatriation being pushed by Google, Cisco, Pfizer and other companies in the Win America campaign. To sell the tax holiday, they claim it will produce a burst of jobs and investment. In fact, Congress passed a “one-time-only” tax holiday in 2004 with similar promises. Instead, it produced a burst of shareholder dividends and stock buybacks, which goosed the pay of CEOs.

Corporations laid off workers and shifted even more income and investment to offshore tax havens in the wake of the 2004 tax holiday.

“Why should we reward firms for successfully gaming the tax system when we in turn are called on to make up the missing tax revenues?” Edward Kleinbard, former chief of staff of Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation, told Bloomberg. “Much of these earnings overseas are reaped from an enormous shell game: Firms move their taxable income from the U.S. and other major economies — where their customers and key employees are in reality located — to tax havens.”

A favorite accounting trick is transferring a patent from the U.S. parent company to a subsidiary — often a shell company — in a tax haven. Profits from the patent go largely untaxed offshore while the costs of development, marketing and management remain in the U.S., where they are taken as tax deductions.

Pfizer was the largest beneficiary of the last tax holiday, bringing $37 billion back to the United States and paying just $1.7 billion in federal corporate income taxes. It laid off 10,000 American workers in the following months. The U.S. is the world’s most profitable drug market and yet over the last three years, Pfizer — maker of Lipitor, Viagra and much more — has reported $7.9 billion in U.S. losses while claiming $37.8 billion in profits in the rest of the world. Pfizer, like the rest of Big Pharma, is heavily subsidized by taxpayer-funded research at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere. It should not be rewarded with another tax holiday.

Bloomberg reported that “Google reduced its income taxes by $3.1 billion over three years by shifting income to Ireland, then the Netherlands, and ultimately to Bermuda.” What a corporate ingrate. Google would not exist without the Internet, and the Internet grew out of U.S. government research beginning in the 1960s. In the 1990s, the U.S. National Science Foundation funded the Digital Library Initiative research at Stanford University that Larry Page and Sergey Brin, now billionaires, developed into Google. Brin was also supported by an NSF graduate student fellowship.

Increasingly, U.S. multinational corporations want to benefit from government spending on education, infrastructure, research, health care and so on without paying for it. Today, large corporations pay, on average, 18 percent of their profits in federal income taxes and as a group contribute just 9 percent toward federal government bills, down from 32 percent in 1952. The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation says a new tax holiday would cost $79 billion.

A dozen national and state business organizations led by Business for Shared Prosperity recently wrote members of Congress urging them to oppose the tax holiday. The letter said, “When powerful large U.S. corporations avoid their fair share of taxes, they undermine U.S. competitiveness, contribute to the national debt and shift more of the tax burden to domestic businesses, especially small businesses that create most of the new jobs.”

There is no excuse for repeating a policy that’s a proven failure. It would be even worse this time around, as corporations would redouble their efforts to shift profits overseas in anticipation of the next tax holiday. Congress should close the tax loopholes that reward companies for transferring U.S. profits, jobs and investment abroad — not encourage them.

Real patriots pay their fair share of taxes. They don’t run out on the bill.

 

By: Holly Sklar and Scott Klinger, CommonDreams.org, July 4, 2011

July 4, 2011 Posted by | Big Business, Big Pharma, Capitalism, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Deficits, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Offshore Accounts, Politics, Republicans, Tax Evasion, Tax Liabilities, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I Support “The Ronald Reagan Tax Reform Act of 2011”

Ten years ago today, the wealthiest Americans caught a multi-billion dollar break from their benefactor, then-president George W. Bush. In the decade since, through two wars, natural disasters, a plummeting economy and a soaring debt, the wealthiest Americans have gotten to keep those Bush tax cuts. Happy birthday, everybody!

As the Republican Party now lines itself up behind Rep. Paul Ryan on his mission to cut the resulting deficit on the backs of working people and the elderly, I find myself surprisingly and strangely nostalgic for another GOP hero, whose legacy, at least when it comes to taxes, has become woefully misunderstood. Can it be that I find myself nostalgic for Ronald Reagan?!

Of course, I’m not alone in my nostalgia. I’m joined by the entire Republican leadership in this, but I think our reasons may be quite a bit different.  In the spirit of unity, I’d like to suggest to Republicans in Congress that they look closely at the record of their favorite 20th century hero and adopt yet another policy named after the Gipper. I’m no fan of much of President Reagan’s legacy, but in a new spirit of bipartisanship, and historical accuracy, I’d like to present Republicans in Congress with an idea: the Ronald Reagan Tax Reform Act of 2011.

A key element of the Reagan lore believed by today’s GOP is that Reagan’s embrace of “trickle-down economics” is what caused any and all economic growth since the 1980s.  In fact, after Reagan implemented his initial tax-slashing plan in 1981, the federal budget deficit started to rapidly balloon. Reagan and his economic advisers were forced to scramble and raised corporate taxes to calm the deficit expansion and stop the economy from spiraling downward. Between 1982 and 1984, Reagan implemented four tax hikes. In 1986, his Tax Reform Act imposed the largest corporate tax increase in U.S. history. The GDP growth and higher tax revenues enjoyed in the later years of the Reagan presidency were in part because of his willingness to compromise on his early supply-side idolatry.

The corporate tax increases that Reagan implemented — under the more palatable guise of “tax reform” — bear another lesson for Republicans. The vast majority of the current Republican Congress has signed on to a pledge peddled by anti-tax purist Grover Norquist, which beholds them to not raise any income taxes by any amount under any circumstances, or to bring in new revenue by closing loopholes. This pledge, which Rep. Ryan’s budget loyally adheres to, in effect freezes tax policy in time — preserving not only Bush’s massive and supposedly temporary tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, but also a vast mishmash of tax breaks and loopholes for specific industries won by well-funded lobbyists.

The problem has become so great that many giant American corporations have become so adept at exploiting loopholes in the tax code that they paid no federal income taxes at all last year — if Republicans in Congress follow their pledge to Norquist, they won’t be able to close a single one of the loopholes that are allowing corporations to avoid paying their fair share.

Even Reagan recognized the difference between just plain raising taxes and simplifying the tax code to cut out loopholes that subsidize corporations. In 1984, he arranged to bring in $50 billion over three years, mainly by closing these loopholes.  His 1986 reform act not only included $120 billion in tax hikes for corporations over five years, it also closed $300 billion worth of corporate loopholes.

These kinds of tax simplification solutions are available for Congress if they want them. As I wrote in April, nixing Bush’s tax cut’s for the wealthiest Americans would help the country cut roughly $65 billion off the deficit in this year alone. Closing loopholes that allow corporations to shelter their income in foreign banks would bring in $6.9 billion. Eliminating the massive tax breaks now enjoyed by oil and gas companies would yield $2.6 billion to help pay the nation’s bills.

But before Republicans in Congress change their math, they have to change their rhetoric — and embrace the reality of the economic situation they face and the one that they’d like to think they’re copying. In 1986, during the signing ceremony for the Tax Reform Act, Reagan explained that “vanishing loopholes and a minimum tax will mean that everybody and every corporation pay their fair share.”

It’s time for the GOP to take a page from their hero’s playbook. If they do so, they might be able to find some allies that they never thought possible. It’s time for “everybody and every corporation to pay their fair share.” We can all get along. Sign me up for “The Reagan Tax Reform Act of 2011.”

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For The American Way, Published in Huffington Post Politics, June 7, 2011

June 7, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Neo-Cons, Politics, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Evasion, Tax Increases, Tax Liabilities, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Forget The Rich: Tax The Poor And Middle Class

Nothing is certain but death and taxes, it used to be said, but in the madcap times we live in, even they’re up for grabs.

No matter what proof the White House provides that Osama bin Laden indeed has had his bucket kicked — and at this point even al Qaeda admits he’s dead — there still will be uncertainty. Whether they ever release those damned photos or not, a lunatic few will continue to insist that Osama’s alive and well and running a Papa John’s Pizza in Marrakesh.

As for taxes, having to pay them is no longer a sure thing either, especially if you’re a corporate giant like General Electric, with a thousand employees in its tax department, skilled in creative accounting. You’ll recall recent reports that although GE made profits last year of $5.1 billion in the United States and $14.2 billion worldwide they would pay not a penny of federal income tax. Chalk it up to billions of dollars of losses at GE Capital during the financial meltdown and a government tax break that allows companies to avoid paying US taxes on profits made overseas while “actively financing” different kinds of deals.

It gets worse. In 2009, Exxon-Mobil didn’t pay any taxes either, and last year, they had worldwide profits of $30.46 billion. Neither did Bank of America or Chevron or Boeing. According to a report last week from the office of the New York City Public Advocate, in 2009, the five companies, including GE, received a total of $3.7 billion in federal tax benefits.

As The New York Times‘ David Kocieniewski reported in March, “Although the top corporate tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, one of the highest in the world, companies have been increasingly using a maze of shelters, tax credits and subsidies to pay far less… Such strategies, as well as changes in tax laws that encouraged some businesses and professionals to file as individuals, have pushed down the corporate share of the nation’s tax receipts — from 30 percent of all federal revenue in the mid-1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009.”

What’s greasing the wheels for these advantages is, hold on to your hats, cash. Over the last decade, according to the NYC public advocate’s report, those same five companies — GE, Exxon-Mobil, Bank of America, Chevron and Boeing — gave more than $43.1 million to political campaigns. During the 2009-2010 election cycle, the five spent a combined $7.86 million in campaign contributions, a 7 percent jump over their 2007-2008 political spending.

“These tax breaks were put in place to promote growth and create jobs, not bankroll the political causes of corporate executives,” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said. “… No company that can afford to spend millions of dollars to influence our elections should be pleading poverty come tax time.”

And by the way, those campaign cash figures don’t even include all the money those companies funneled into the 2010 campaigns via trade associations and tax-exempt non-profits. Thanks to the Supreme Court Citizens United decision, we don’t know the numbers because, as per the court, the corporate biggies don’t have to tell us. Imagine them sticking out their tongues and wiggling their fingers in their ears and you have a pretty good idea of their official position on this.

Meanwhile, last week Republicans like Utah’s Orrin Hatch, ranking member of the US Senate Finance Committee, grabbed hold of an analysis by Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and wrestled it to the ground. The brief memorandum reported that in the 2009 tax year 51 percent of all American taxpayers had zero tax liability or received a refund. So why, the Republicans asked, are Democrats and others so mean, asking corporations and the rich to pay higher taxes when lots of other people — especially the poor and middle class — don’t pay taxes either?

Hatch told MSNBC, “Bastiat, the great economist of the past, said the place where you’ve got to get revenues has to come from the middle class. That’s the huge number of people that are there. So the system does need to be revamped… We have an unbalanced tax code that we’ve got to change.”

All of which flies in the face of reality. As Travis Waldron of the progressive ThinkProgress website explained, “The majority of Americans who do not pay federal income taxes don’t make enough money to qualify for even the lowest tax bracket, a problem made worse by the economic recession. That includes retired Americans, who don’t pay income taxes because they earn very little income, if they earn any at all.

“And while many low-income Americans don’t pay income taxes, they do pay taxes. Because of payroll and sales taxes — a large proportion of which are paid by low- and middle-income Americans — less than a quarter of the nation’s households don’t contribute to federal tax receipts — and the majority of the non-contributors are students, the elderly, or the unemployed.”

What’s more, ThinkProgress notes, “The top 400 taxpayers — who have more wealth than half of all Americans combined — are paying lower taxes than they have in a generation, as their tax responsibilities have slowly collapsed since the New Deal era.”  In the meantime, “working families have been asked to pay more and more.”

So maybe death and taxes are no longer certain, but one thing remains as immutable as the hills. In the words of another golden oldie, there’s nothing surer — the rich get rich and the poor get poorer.

By: Michael Winship, CommonDreams.org, May 10, 2011

May 14, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Democrats, Economy, Elections, General Electric, GOP, Government, Income Gap, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Tax Credits, Tax Increases, Tax Liabilities, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Try This At Home But, How You Can Pull A General Electric On Taxes

There’s been a firestorm this week over the news that General Electric will pay no tax—at least, no federal corporate income tax—on last year’s profits.

But if you’re like a lot of people, your first reaction was probably: “Hmmm. How can I get that kind of deal?”

If General Electric pays close to zero in Federal Income taxes, can you? Brett Arends tells Kelsey Hubbard how even a “regular Joe” can lower their tax bill, especially if they are self-employed.

You’d be surprised. You might. And without being either a pauper or a major corporation.

I spoke to Gil Charney, principal tax researcher at H&R Block‘s Tax Institute, to see how a regular Joe could pull a GE. The verdict: It’s more feasible than you think—especially if you’re self-employed.

Let’s say you set up business as a consultant or a contractor, something a lot of people have been doing these days. And, to make this a challenge on the tax front, let’s say you do well and take in about $150,000 in your first year.

First off, says Mr. Charney, for 2010 you can write off up to $10,000 in start-up expenses. (In subsequent years it’s only $5,000.)

Okay, let’s say you claim $7,000. That takes your income down to $143,000.

You can also write off all legitimate business expenses. Mr. Charney emphasizes that this only applies to legitimate expenses.

He didn’t say, but everyone seems to understand, that this can be quite a flexible term. Even if you buy a computer, a cellphone and a car primarily for business use, you can use them for personal purposes as well. If you happen to take a business trip to Florida in, say, January, no one is going to stop you from enjoying the sunshine or taking a dip in the pool.

So let’s say you manage to write off another $10,000 a year in business expenses.

That brings your income, for tax purposes, down to $133,000.

You’ll have to pay Medicare and Social Security taxes (just like GE). Because you’re self-employed, you have to pay both sides: the employee and the employer. That will come to about $19,000.

However, you can deduct half of that, or $9,500, from your taxable income. So that brings your total down to $123,500 so far.

Now comes the creative bit. The self-employed have access to terrific tax breaks on their investment and retirement accounts. The best deal for many is going to be a self-employed 401(k), sometimes known as a Solo 401(k).

This will let you save $43,100 and write it off against your taxes. That money goes straight into a sheltered investment account, as with a regular 401(k).

Why $43,100? That’s because with a Solo 401(k), you’re both the employer and the employee. As the employee you get to contribute a maximum of $16,500, as with any regular 401(k). But as the employer you also get to lavish yourself with an incredibly generous company match of up to 20% of net income.

Yes, being the boss has its privileges. (And if you’re 50 or over, your limit as an employee is raised from $16,500 each to $22,000.)

You can save another $10,000 by also contributing to individual retirement accounts—$5,000 for you, $5,000 for your spouse. If you use a traditional IRA, rather than a Roth, that reduces your taxable income as well. If you’re 50 or over, the limit rises to $6,000 apiece.

If you contribute $43,100 to your Solo 401(k), and $10,000 to two IRAs, that brings your income for tax purposes down to just over $70,000.

We haven’t stopped there either, says Mr. Charney.

Now come the usual itemized deductions. You can write off your state and local taxes. Let’s say these come to $10,000.

You can write off interest on your mortgage. Call that another $10,000. That’s enough to pay 5% interest on a $200,000 home loan.

That gets us down to about $50,000 And we’re not done.

If you’re self-employed, health insurance is probably a big headache. But the news isn’t all bad. You can write off the premiums for yourself, your spouse, and your kids.

And if you use a qualifying high-deductible health insurance plan—there are a variety of rules to make sure a plan qualifies—you get another break. You can contribute $3,050 a year into a tax-sheltered Health Savings Account, or $6,150 for a family. You can write those contributions off against your taxable income. The investments grow sheltered from tax. And if you spend the money on qualifying health costs, the withdrawals are tax-free as well.

So call this $10,000 for the premiums and $6,150 for the HSA contributions. That gets your income, for tax purposes, all the way down to about $34,000.

If you have outstanding student loans, you can write off $2,500 in interest. And you can write off $4,000 of your kid’s college tuition and fees.

Then there’s a personal exemption: $3,650 per person. If you’re married with one child, that’s $10,950.

Taxable income: just under $17,000. That’s on a gross take of $150,000. You’d owe less than $1,700 in federal income tax.

And it doesn’t stop there. Because now you can bring in some of the tax credits. Unlike deductions, these come off your tax liability, dollar for dollar.

GE got big write-offs related to green energy. There are some for you too, although on a small scale. You can claim credits for things like installing solar panels, heat pumps or energy-efficient windows or boilers in your home. Let’s say you use a home equity loan to pay for the improvements and take the maximum $1,500 write-off.

That gets your tax liability down to $200.

Can we get rid of that? Sure, says Mr. Charney.

If your spouse spends, say, $1,000 on qualifying adult-education courses or training programs, you can claim $200, or 20% of the cost, in Lifetime Learning Credits. (The maximum is $2,000.)

That wipes out the remaining liability.

Congratulations. You’ve pulled a GE. You owe no federal income taxes at all.

OK, it’s just an illustration. Few will be quite so fortunate. On the other hand, it’s not comprehensive either. There are plenty of other deductions and credits we didn’t mention. You could have written off up to $3,000 by selling loss-making investments. Your spouse may be able to use a 401(k) deduction as well. There are lots of ways to tweak the numbers.

In this case, you’ve paid no federal income tax, and meanwhile you’ve saved $19,000 toward your retirement through Social Security and Medicare, and $53,000 through your 401(k) and IRAs. You’ve paid most of your accommodation costs (that is, the interest and property taxes on your home), covered your health-care costs and quite a lot of personal expenses through your business account, paid $4,000 toward your child’s college costs and had about $2,000 a month left over for cash costs.

Who says GE has all the fun?

By: Brett Arends, The Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2011

April 4, 2011 Posted by | Big Business, Corporations, General Electric, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Tax Credits, Tax Evasion, Tax Liabilities | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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