By James Kwak
Mark Thoma provides an excerpt from Noam Scheiber on Peter Orszag’s attempt to let all of the Bush tax cuts expire. In short, Orszag wanted to extend the “middle-class” tax cuts for two years (letting the tax cuts for the rich expire); then he expected the middle-class tax cuts to expire as well. President Obama was interested in the plan, which Scheiber takes as evidence that “the president is a true fiscal conservative.”
Thoma frames this as a bad thing:
“The explanation, of course, is that despite hopes to the contrary (and denial by some), the president is, ‘a true fiscal conservative’ — it’s not just an act in an attempt to capture the middle — and that could be bad news not just for middle class tax cuts, but also for important social insurance programs such as Social Security.”
I like and respect Mark Thoma a great deal, and I generally think of him as a mainstream Democrat on economic issues, neither a socialist nor a “moderate Democrat” (what we used to call a Republican). To me, his post is evidence that many Democrats think that most of the Bush tax cuts were an are a good thing. This confuses me. When did we become the party of tax cuts?
By James Kwak
Floyd Norris has written another good column skewering the Republican candidates’ tax proposals. It’s not hard: all you have to do is list the many ways they want to cut taxes—which make George W. Bush look like a veritable communist, out to confiscate all private wealth—and point out the vast increase in budget deficits that would follow.
Near the end, Norris has this paragraph:
To some deficit hawks, like Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the campaign so far has been a disappointment. In tax policy circles, she said, there has been growing agreement that a reform similar to the 1986 Reagan tax reform is needed — cutting rates and eliminating loopholes and deductions. But while that reform was revenue-neutral, she said, this one would need to raise revenue.
I wouldn’t call myself a member of “tax policy circles,” so maybe there is such a consensus. “Cutting rates and eliminating loopholes and deductions” was a feature of Bowles-Simpson, Domenici-Rivlin, and the Gang of Six. But that doesn’t make it right.
By James Kwak
I forgot to alert you to my latest Atlantic column, which went up on Monday. To my mind, Occupy Wall Street is a protest movement, and a valuable one, and the often-stated criticism that they should have concrete demands is kind of silly. (See Frank Pasquale’s response, point 5.) I have spent a fair amount of time reading the 99 Percent tumblr, however, and I think the kind of policies that would help the people who describe themselves there are pretty obvious. This is Mike Konczal’s summary:
“Upon reflection, it is very obvious where the problems are. There’s no universal health care to handle the randomness of poor health. There’s no free higher education to allow people to develop their skills outside the logic and relations of indentured servitude. Our bankruptcy code has been rewritten by the top 1% when instead, it needs to be a defense against their need to shove inequality-driven debt at populations. And finally, there’s no basic income guaranteed to each citizen to keep poverty and poor circumstances at bay.”
But in my opinion, the preliminary step to getting rich (and reasonably comfortable) people to pay for a better social safety net is to let the Bush tax cuts expire, as I argue in the column. Most importantly, it’s the only inequality-reducing policy I can think of that has any chance of happening in the next year—simply because it only requires doing nothing. How much would it reduce inequality? That’s just the reverse of what the tax cuts did in the first place. (If you can’t read the table, click on it for a larger version.)
By James Kwak
Quick, what was the greatest conservative accomplishment of the George W. Bush presidency? It wasn’t Medicare Part D: that was a clever way to steal a Democratic issue and pass it in a form that was friendly to the pharmaceutical industry. It wasn’t Roberts and Alito: yes, they are young and conservative, but the majority is still only 5-4. It wasn’t Social Security privatization: that didn’t happen. Iraq? Getting political support to invade Iraq was a major coup, but everything went downhill from there.
The answer is obvious: the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. Together, they were a wish list of conservative tax policy: a reduction in the top marginal income tax rate from 39.1 percent to 35 percent; a reduction in the top rates for capital gains and dividends to 15 percent; much higher contribution limits for tax-preferred retirement accounts (meaning that if you have enough money to save, you can shield more of it from taxes); and eventual elimination of the estate tax. In total, when fully phased in, the Bush-era tax cuts sliced almost 3 percent of GDP out of federal government revenues.*