Posts Tagged ‘Taxed Enough Already’

Are Our Taxes Too High?

April 18, 2011

On Wednesday, April 13, 2011, President Obama gave a speech outlining his proposal to reduce the federal deficit by $4 Trillion over 12 years, with more than $2 Trillion in spending cuts including $480 Billion in Medicare savings, $1 Trillion in revenue increases by not extending the Bush tax cuts for upper income taxpayers, and $1 Trillion in savings on interest payments on the federal debt.  The President also proposed a bipartisan panel to simplify the tax code and to reduce or eliminate special tax breaks for individuals and corporations.[i]  He said he would not raise the eligibility age for Medicare.  Even before the president gave his speech at George Washington University, Republicans were blasting the proposal as an unacceptable plan to raise taxes.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said

“I think the president heard us loud and clear. We’re willing to resolve our differences and do something meaningful but raising taxes will not be part of it.”

“We don’t believe that raising taxes is the answer here,” added House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who also attended the meeting morning meeting at the White House.[ii]

Rep. Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, said “We don’t have a problem with our budget because Americans don’t pay enough taxes. We have problems with our budget because we spend too much money.”[iii]

Later in the week, the House approved the Ryan Budget, which proposes to cut the top income tax rate to 25% and reduce, but not eliminate the projected budget deficit, by making drastic cuts in many federal programs and replacing Medicare with a voucher-like system for anyone who is now less than 55 years old.

Do we Americans pay too much in taxes?

In 2009, federal, state and local income taxes consumed 9.2% of all personal income, the lowest level since 1950.[iv]  The OECD Center for Tax Policy and Administration studied the ratio of all taxes to national GDP.   In 2007, the United States was 27th in the ranking of the 30 OECD member countries.[v]  Due to the Great Recession and the Obama tax cuts of 2009, the U.S. fell to 28th, with only Turkey and Mexico having lower ratios of taxes to GDP.  Do we really want to be like Turkey or Mexico?  If our tax ratio were at the same level as Germany, in the middle of the OECD ranking, we would not have such a difficult problem balancing the federal budget.  And note that Germany now has a lower unemployment rate than the U.S.

Here are a few more numbers to consider: The last time the U.S. federal government was in the black was during the second term of the Clinton Administration.   Even excluding the Social Security surplus, the surplus of federal revenues over federal expenditures was $1.9 billion in fiscal 1999 and $86.4 billion in fiscal 2000. Alan Greenspan (Federal Reserve Chairman) as well as the Congressional Budget Office worried that the federal government was on a path to pay off the entire federal debt.  Instead, the Bush-era tax cuts coupled with major off-budget spending for two wars and a Medicare drug benefit, added $3.2 trillion to the debt.  Then Republican-managed deregulation led to the greatest financial crisis in a century, followed by the Great Recession, which resulted in a sharp drop in tax revenues.  The Republicans try to blame the current deficit on President Obama, but the fact is that stimulus spending since Mr. Obama took office — including large tax cuts — accounts for about $600 billion of the current $14.2 trillion in accumulated debt.[vi]

One of the major factors in grim budget projections is the rising cost of health care.  Representative Ryan says the U.S. cannot afford Medicare, so he proposes to replace Medicare with a voucher-like system that relies on the private insurance industry.  There is nothing in the Republican budget proposal to lower health care costs.  Indeed, the Ryan plan might contribute to increased health insurance costs, since administrative costs of private insurance (12% to 20% of premiums) are higher than the administrative costs of Medicare (2% to 6%).[vii]

The Republican response the President’s deficit reduction proposal is a disappointing reiteration of the tax-cuts-above-all ideology that has gotten this country deeply into debt.   Republican politicians may think this is good politics.  I am not a politician.  I care deeply about this country’s future.  The current federal deficit is unsustainable, and national fiscal salvation will require shared sacrifice.  I am ready to pay taxes at the rates in effect from 1995-2000 during the Clinton Administration.

There will be a long debate on how to eliminate the budget deficit.  We will have more comments in coming posts.