“Don’t Let The GOP Buy Your Vote, Stupid”: The GOP Has Zero Credibility When It Comes To Fiscal Responsibility
If you want to understand exactly how the Republicans plan to buy the votes needed to win the 2016 presidential election, look no further than “The Economic Growth and Family Fairness Tax Plan.”
Heard of it? The plan, which is being touted with Willy Loman-esque desperation by Sens. Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, seeks to fix our “antiquated and dysfunctional…federal tax system.” And it’s won slow clap after slow clap from Republican-friendly conservatives at Americans for Tax Reform, National Review, and The American Enterprise Institute, whose James Pethokoukis raves, “Lee and Rubio might have cooked up the first great tax cut plan of the 2000s.”
Yeah, not so much. Despite some good features that would likely spur economic growth—such as reducing corporate tax rates by 10 percentage points, switching to a territorial collection system, and capping business-income rates filed on individual Schedule C forms—what the plan does is return us to the early years of the George W. Bush presidency, when budget continence was never allowed to get in the way of shoveling cash to targeted voters.
Recall, for instance, how Bush and a Republican Congress pushed through an unfunded (and unnecessary) Medicare prescription drug plan back in 2003 as a straight-up gift to seniors, who had voted Democratic in 2000. Mission accomplished: Bush went from getting just 47 percent of the senior vote against Al Gore in 2000 to pulling 52 percent of the 65-plus crowd against John Kerry in 2004.
At least Bush was pissing away theoretical budget surpluses that were falsely projected to last far into the future. After years of record-setting deficits and mounting national debt, today’s politicians certainly don’t have that excuse. Yet last year’s Republican budget resolution called for net spending increases every year for the next 10 years, starting at $3.7 trillion and culminating in projected spending of $5 trillion in 2024 (in current dollars). And given the whopping increases in real per-capita spending under a Republican president and Congress during Bush’s first term in office, the GOP has zero credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility.
There’s no doubt that a spending hawk such as Lee, who has proposed a balanced-budget amendment in the past, knows that. Yet at the heart of his and Marco Rubio’s plan is a massive giveaway to parents in the form of a new $2,500 child tax credit (this would be added to an already existing $1,000 child credit) with no phase-out due to income. However, because it’s “limited to the sum of total income and payroll tax liabilities, including employer-side payroll tax liability,” it means that low-income parents won’t be able to claim the full amount.
The expanded child credit is a big reason why, as AEI’s Pethokoukis grants, the plan would “lose something like $4 trillion in federal tax revenue over a decade, maybe half that if you apply ‘dynamic scoring’ that factors in the effects of economic growth.” (Dynamic scoring attempts to model changes in people’s behavior to changes in the tax code. While the method is easily abused, its core insight—that we change our consumption patterns when costs and benefits vary—is sound.)
But unlike cutting taxes on business activity or trimming top marginal tax rates, expanding the child tax credit has nothing to do with spurring economic growth. This is something that conservatives grant in most contexts. As Curtis S. Dubay of the Heritage Foundation wrote just last year, “Increasing the credit would be a targeted tax cut that would put more money in the pockets of people who qualify for the expansion. However, it would not improve economic growth like rate reductions would because a [child tax credit] increase would not reduce those disincentives on productive activities.”
The free-market Tax Foundation agrees. In fact, in an analysis of the Rubio-Lee plan, it ran both static and dynamic scores of the plan. On its static score for the next 10 years, the Tax Foundation found the Rubio-Lee plan meant serious reductions in annual federal revenue. For instance, switching to just two tax brackets of 15 percent and 35 percent would mean $31 billion less each year compared to current law. The full expensing of business equipment would lead to another annual loss of $78 billion, while the changes to the business taxes would cut $210 billion. And the expanded child tax credit would mean the feds would forgo another $173 billion.
Yet in its dynamic score of the same provisions, something different happens. The consolidation of tax brackets yields an average annual net gain of $5 billion, full expensing yields of $115 billion, and the changes in business taxes pulls in a net of $210 billion a year. But the expanded child tax credit? It still shows an average annual loss of $173 billion.
So the expanded child tax credit has nothing to do with promoting growth. Indeed, as my frequent co-author Veronique de Rugy points out at National Review, the generally accepted best way to promote economic growth via tax policy is by cutting high marginal rates. But because of the size and scope of Rubio and Lee’s expanded child tax credit they can’t reduce the top individual rate below 35 percent without punching an even bigger hole in revenue. “If bolstering the economic status of families is the point of all this,” she writes, “the way to go is lower tax rates, not a tax credit.”
In their explanation of the plan, Rubio and Lee claim that the expanded child tax credit is simply a way of abolishing what they call “the Parent Tax Penalty.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who has trouble following the logic here: “As parents simultaneously pay payroll taxes while also paying to raise the next generation that will pay payroll taxes, parents pay more into the old-age entitlement systems.” Huh? Parents pay to raise their children, yes. When those kids enter the workforce, they (not their parents) will pay taxes on their wages. Forget those “It’s a child, not a choice” bumper stickers. Kids today apparently are to be most valued for their ability to pay into unsustainable old-age retirement plans that need to be scrapped, not propped up.
Questions abound: If the amount of income subject to Social Security taxes is capped, doesn’t it also make sense then to phase out the credit above certain income levels? What about all the tax dollars that flow to children (and their parents) during their first 18 to 21 years? And if the expanded child tax credit is supposed to credit parents for future tax payments made by their children (yes, getting complicated), then why are low-income parents’ credits “limited to the sum of total income and payroll tax liabilities”? Aren’t we crediting parents for their kids’ future tax payments?
I’d argue instead that the “family fairness” portion actually has very little to do with the future past the 2016 election. Expanding the child tax credit, especially in a way that keeps the full amount for middle- and upper-class parents while limiting the amount low-income parents can get, is a pretty obvious (and obnoxious) way to buy votes among likely Republican voters. Especially when we all know that the GOP has no intention of trimming $173 billion out of federal spending to pay for it.
We’re long past the time for a serious conversation about how much government we want to buy and at what price. If the Obama years are any indication, the Democrats are genuinely uninterested in having that conversation. (The president’s latest budget proposal would increase spending over the next decade by more than 50 percent and end the period with bigger annual deficits than we have today.) But the Republicans, who are supposed to know better and be better on fiscal issues, are part of the problem too.
Every bit as much as the tax-and-spend Dems they love to attack, the Party of Reagan ushered in “the Golden Age of Government by Groupon.”
The only question that remains is how much our kids and grandkids will hate us for how much debt—I mean “family fairness”—we’ve amassed in their name.
By: Nick Gillespie, The Daily Beast, March 13, 2015
Last week, the Census Bureau put out its annual income and poverty figures for 2012. The big news on the poverty front is that the percentage of Americans living in poverty is unchanged at 15 percent, which amounts to 46.5 million Americans. More than one in five kids under the age of 18 are in poverty, and nearly one in four kids under the age of six are impoverished as well. These are numbers we’ve all become accustomed to, but they can still shock the conscience if you make an effort to let them soak in again.
The sheer scale of poverty in the U.S. is so massive that it can seem as if eliminating or dramatically reducing it would be nearly impossible. After all, 46 million people is a lot of people. But in reality, if we stick to the official poverty line, the amount of money standing in the way of poverty eradication is much lower than people realize.
In its annual poverty report, the Census Bureau includes a table that few take note of which actually details by how much families are below the poverty line. A little multiplication and addition later, and the magic number pops out. In 2012, the number was $175.3 billion. That is how many dollars it would take to bring every person in the United States up to the poverty line. In 2012, that number was just 1.08 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), which is to say the overall size of the economy.
To be sure, you probably don’t want to run a program that hunts out every family below the poverty line and brings them right up to it. Such a program would effectively involve imposing a 100 percent marginal tax rate for all income made below the poverty line. But, things like strategically expanding the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, SNAP, and related programs could make enormous strides toward poverty reduction. Implementing a mild basic income and a negative income tax would also help a great deal. The policy solutions for dramatically cutting poverty exist, they are used by countries elsewhere, and they could be used here, if we chose to do so.
It might be helpful to put the $175.3 billion magic number in perspective. In 2012, this number was just one-fourth of the $700 billion the federal government spent on the military. When you start hunting through the submerged spending we do through the tax code, it takes you no time to find enough tax expenditures geared toward the affluent to get to that number as well. The utterly ridiculous tax expenditures directed toward the disproportionately affluent class of people called homeowners—mortgage interest deduction, property tax deduction, exclusion of capital gains on residences—by themselves sum to $115.3 billion in 2012. Throw in the $117.3 billion in tax expenditures used to subsidize employer-based health care (also a disproportionate sop to the rich), and you’ve already eclipsed the magic number.
Eradicating or dramatically cutting poverty is not the deeply complicated intractable problem people make it out to be. The dollars we are talking about are minuscule up against the size of our economy. We have poverty because we choose to have it. We choose to design our distributive institutions in ways that generate poverty when we could design them in ways that don’t. Its continued existence is totally indefensible and our nation’s biggest shame.
By: Matt Bruenig, The American Prospect, September 24, 2013
In a decade of frenzied tax-cutting for the rich, the Republican Party just happened to lower tax rates for the poor, as well. Now several of the party’s most prominent presidential candidates and lawmakers want to correct that oversight and raise taxes on the poor and the working class, while protecting the rich, of course.
These Republican leaders, who think nothing of widening tax loopholes for corporations and multimillion-dollar estates, are offended by the idea that people making less than $40,000 might benefit from the progressive tax code. They are infuriated by the earned income tax credit (the pride of Ronald Reagan), which has become the biggest and most effective antipoverty program by giving working families thousands of dollars a year in tax refunds. They scoff at continuing President Obama’s payroll tax cut, which is tilted toward low- and middle-income workers and expires in December.
Until fairly recently, Republicans, at least, have been fairly consistent in their position that tax cuts should benefit everyone. Though the Bush tax cuts were primarily for the rich, they did lower rates for almost all taxpayers, providing a veneer of egalitarianism. Then the recession pushed down incomes severely, many below the minimum income tax level, and the stimulus act lowered that level further with new tax cuts. The number of families not paying income tax has risen from about 30 percent before the recession to about half, and, suddenly, Republicans have a new tool to stoke class resentment.
Representative Michele Bachmann noted recently that 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income tax; all of them, she said, should pay something because they benefit from parks, roads and national security. (Interesting that she acknowledged government has a purpose.) Gov. Rick Perry, in the announcement of his candidacy, said he was dismayed at the “injustice” that nearly half of Americans do not pay income tax. Jon Huntsman Jr., up to now the most reasonable in the Republican presidential field, said not enough Americans pay tax.
Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and several senators have made similar arguments, variations of the idea expressed earlier by Senator Dan Coats of Indiana that “everyone needs to have some skin in the game.”
This is factually wrong, economically wrong and morally wrong. First, the facts: a vast majority of Americans have skin in the tax game. Even if they earn too little to qualify for the income tax, they pay payroll taxes (which Republicans want to raise), gasoline excise taxes and state and local taxes. Only 14 percent of households pay neither income nor payroll taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institution. The poorest fifth paid an average of 16.3 percent of income in taxes in 2010.
Economically, reducing the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit — which would be required if everyone paid income taxes — makes no sense at a time of high unemployment. The credits, which only go to working people, have always been a strong incentive to work, as even some conservative economists say, and have increased the labor force while reducing the welfare rolls.
The moral argument would have been obvious before this polarized year. Nearly 90 percent of the families that paid no income tax make less than $40,000, most much less. The real problem is that so many Americans are struggling on such a small income, not whether they pay taxes. The two tax credits lifted 7.2 million people out of poverty in 2009, including four million children. At a time when high-income households are paying their lowest share of federal taxes in decades, when corporations frequently avoid paying any tax, it is clear who should bear a larger burden and who should not.
By: Editorial, The New York Times, August 30, 2011