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Is Federal Tax Reform Even Possible?

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More On the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform

By Children’s Home Society of Florida Foundation

In 2010, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform considered possible options for reforming the income tax system. The bipartisan commission was co-chaired by former Senator Alan Simpson and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.

Bowles-Simpson

The Bowles-Simpson tax solution involved a substantial reduction in the rates by limiting itemized deductions or converting them to tax credits.

In response to the Simpson-Bowles proposal and those from members of Congress and presidential candidates, the Senate Finance Committee leadership met with the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT). Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) and ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) requested a study by JCT of various tax reform options.

The JCT experiment discussed options if various tax expenditures were repealed. Based on the JCT analysis, there was only a small reduction in rates possible. However, other commentators noted that the JCT study did not consider all of the base-broadening strategies.

In response to the JCT study, Simpson and Bowles issued a joint statement and noted, “Nothing in the JCT analysis changes our belief that it is possible for tax reform to reduce rates and produce additional revenues if policy makers are willing to make the tough choices to eliminate or scale back tax expenditures.”

The Simpson-Bowles proposal showed a potential to reduce rates to 8%, 14% and 23% if there is a drastic reduction in other tax expenditures. The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) also responded to the JCT study.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget Responds

The CRFB analysis indicated that the Simpson-Bowles commission strategy could work if there is partial or total elimination of tax expenditures. Another CRFB analysis also indicated that there was a 2005 Treasury study by the President’s Advisory Panel on Tax Reform that claimed a combination of base-broadening and rate reduction is possible.

Assessment

CRFB staff noted, “Although these two analyses differ in some respect, both show that the full elimination of all tax expenditures would allow the top tax rate to fall to 23% while still putting aside more than $1 trillion for deficit reduction.”

Editor’s Note: Your editor and this organization take no specific position on these tax reform strategies. The proposed major rate reduction plans all require significant limits on itemized deductions. Most strategies also tax capital gains at 28%. These changes will be difficult to pass during the major tax reform expected in 2013.

Conclusion

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The Tax Foundation Reviews the Presidential Candidates’ Tax Proposals

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Goals for Sound Tax Policy

By Children’s Home Society of Florida Foundation

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation states that its goals for sound tax policy include, “simplicity, neutrality, transparency and stability.”

The Review

It published a review on September 6, 2012 of three different major tax proposals. The review discussed the tax proposals of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, co-chaired by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the proposals of President Obama and the proposals of Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney. The nonpartisan Tax Commission attempted to provide an objective comparison of the three proposals. It discussed proposals for income tax, capital gains tax, corporate tax and gas tax for each plan.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform produced a plan in December of 2010. With nine Democrats and nine Republicans on the committee, the plan received 11 of 18 votes. However, it did not receive a sufficiently large majority to be submitted for a vote by the House and Senate.

The plan is commonly described as the “Simpson-Bowles” plan after the Republican and Democratic Co-Chairs of the Commission.

The “Simpson-Bowles” Plan

Simpson-Bowles proposes a 28% top rate on personal income taxes. Capital gains and corporations would also be taxed at 28%. Corporations would not pay tax on earnings overseas. The alternative minimum tax would be repealed. Taxes on gasoline would be increased from 18 cents to 23 cents per gallon.

With the reduction in the top income tax rate, most credits and deductions would be greatly limited. There would be a child credit, an earned income tax credit, a limited deduction for mortgage interest and deductions for health and retirement plans.

The principal goal of Simpson-Bowles is to reduce spending to 21% of gross domestic product (GDP) and to raise taxes to that same level. Simpson-Bowles is projected to balance the budget by 2037.

The Tax Foundation

The Tax Foundation study of proposals by President Obama covered many of the same areas. The top income tax rate would be set at 39.6%. Long-term capital gains are taxed at 30% under the “Buffett Rule.” Dividends are potentially taxed at the top rate of 39.6% plus the 3.8% additional tax under the Affordable Care Act. Corporate taxes for both U.S. and foreign profits are 28%. The alternative minimum tax is retained with the “Buffett Rule” level of 30%.

President Obama proposes retaining most credits and deductions with some technical changes. The benefit of deductions for the upper income brackets of 39.6% and 36% would be limited to the tax savings in the 28% bracket.

Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney proposes a top income tax rate of 28%. Capital gains would continue to be taxed at 15% and dividends at 15%. Corporate tax rates would be reduced to 25%, and foreign income would not be taxed. There would be substantial limits on credits and deductions. There would be limited deductions for home mortgage, charitable gifts, retirement plans and health plans. The alternative minimum tax would be repealed. Candidate Romney’s plans are projected to balance the budget by 2020.

Editor’s Note: This nonpartisan review by Dr. McBride and the Tax Foundation is offered as an educational service to our readers. Your editor and this organization take no position on the specific provisions that are involved. Our readers should recognize that with the complexity of our tax system, the comparison by Dr. McBride involves review of extensive information and a number of judgments on the various proposals.

Conclusion

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Update on Tax Reform and New Revenue with FFS Medicare Plans?

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About the Bipartisan Policy Center Debt Reduction Task Force

By Children’s Home Society of Florida Foundation

Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) is continuing his series of tax reform hearings as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. On June 19, former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Alice Rivlin, former Director of the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget, described their solution. Domenici and Rivlin are the Co-Chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center Debt Reduction Task Force.

The Domenici-Rivlin Plan

Domenici emphasized that there are two essential parts of the potential 2013 financial reform. He stated, “Healthcare reform and tax reform that raises additional revenue are essential pieces of any serious plan.” Then, Rivlin continued to describe the basic principles for tax reform. She commented, “Assume that all income from whatever source is taxable, which would enable you to raise more revenue from much lower rates, and then go back to decide which modifications are absolutely essential, even though they would raise the rates.”

Two Major Changes

The Domenici-Rivlin plan starts with a modification of Medicare. They propose two major changes.

1. Federal Medicare Exchanges. Private companies could offer fee-for-service and other comprehensive Medicare plans. All Medicare beneficiaries could choose their plan.

2. Competitive Pricing. The private plans and traditional fee-for-service Medicare plans would receive federal support at the level of the second-lowest-cost plan. This pricing method encourages plan providers to economize and reduce overall costs.

Tax Reform

Domenici and Rivlin also offered very specific proposals for comprehensive tax reform.

1. Tax Brackets. Their personal tax system has brackets of 28% and 15%. The corporate rate is 28%.

2. Capital Gains. All gains from capital asset sales are taxed at ordinary income rates. Most taxpayers would pay 28% capital gains rates.

3. Child Credit. The credit per child would be $1,600.

4. Itemized Deductions. None; except miscellaneous deductions that exceed 5% of adjusted gross income.

5. Mortgage Deduction. A 15% credit on interest paid with a limit of $25,000 per year.

6. Charitable Gifts. A 15% credit on deductible gifts.

7. State and Local Taxes. Not deductible.

8. IRAs and Retirement Plans. A 15% tax credit or deductions up to $20,000 per year.

Assessment

Ms. Rivlin concluded her discussion by observing that the plan under discussion was similar to the Bowles-Simpson plan approved by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. She observed, “The basic structure is the same. You can’t get there any other way.”

Editor’s Note:

Sen. Baucus and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) are steadily moving toward major tax reform in 2013. The two bipartisan groups advocating reform have agreed on general principles. However, there still remains a major political discussion at the end of this year before broad-based reform can commence. Your editor and this organization take no specific position on these recommendations. This information is offered because it will have major impact on all Americans.

Conclusion

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Will Fiscal Commission Consider a VAT to Reduce the Federal Deficit?

Moro on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform

By Robert Giese
bob.giese@chsfl.org

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform [NCFRR] continues to develop a comprehensive proposal to address the federal deficit. It has invited comments from members of Congress, leaders of all types of American organizations and private individuals.

We invite ME-P contributions, as well.

A Four- Point Proposal

James Q. Riordan, Sr. sent a letter this week to co-chair Alan K. Simpson, the former Senator from Wyoming. Mr. Riordan made four basic points about the fiscal problems and suggested a Value Added Tax (VAT) as a solution.

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First, he indicated that there is too much “unaffordable spending.” Even with limited spending growth, the income tax cannot be sufficiently increased to pay for current and future proposed spending without doing damage to the economy and increasing unemploymen.

Second, Riordan claims that the only potential solution is a VAT. However, because the VAT is a tax on consumption and would have great impact on middle and lower incomes, it needs to be accompanied by a progressive income tax.

His third point is that the new income tax would need to be very simple. In his view, there would be no deductions for home mortgage interest, charitable gifts or medical expenses.

Fourth, he would tax all income only once. There would presumably not be a corporate-level tax or an estate tax under this theory.

Inadequate Staff Resources

As the fiscal commission considers the options for reducing spending and increasing taxes, it has indicated that the current staff resources are inadequate. In response to a request by the commission, Senate Majority Reid sent a letter this week to the White House and requested additional staff support. The White House indicated that it will be pleased to “work with him” to provide additional assistance.

At a hearing on the financial challenges, Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) noted that the commission is under great pressure to develop an effective plan. He stated, “If we don’t get something out of that commission, we are over the cliff.”

Assessment

Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND) was the prime supporter of the commission. He stated, “This is not a time to impose austerity in my judgment.” However, he indicated that austerity will be necessary in the future, and that budget cuts and tax increases “must be imposed in a way that is convincing.”

Editors Note: For now, we take no specific position on VAT or other tax and spending recommendations by the Fiscal Commission. This information is offered because potential Fiscal Commission plans may affect many of our ME-P physician readers, subscribers, consultants and advisors.

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