Thursday, July 31, 2008

Obama’s Social Security Plan Lacks Important Details

From the Associated Press:

Barack Obama's bid to place a new Social Security tax on very high incomes is either a bold or foolhardy plan, depending on who critiques it. But its potential impact is almost impossible to gauge because he is providing few details on basic questions such as what the tax rate might be, what types of income would be taxed and how the taxpayers' benefits would be affected.

The Democratic presidential candidate says he would work with lawmakers from both parties to resolve such matters. Voters generally applaud bipartisan cooperation, but they apparently will go to the polls this fall with only a vague notion of what Obama has in mind.

Obama made headlines June 13 when he called for a Social Security payroll tax on incomes above $250,000 a year. Currently, the tax is levied only on the first $102,000 of each worker's income. That covers the entire salary of most Americans.

Obama would not apply the Social Security tax to annual incomes between $102,000 and $250,000, a move meant to avoid alienating several million upper-income voters. His proposed change would apply only to those earning more than $250,000 a year, or about 3 percent of all taxpayers.

When he outlined his idea in the battleground state of Ohio, Obama said it is unfair for middle-class earners to pay the Social Security tax ‘on every dime they make,’ while millionaires and billionaires pay it on "only a very small percentage of their income." He also said the Social Security program needs revamping to bolster its long-term viability.

With Obama offering few details, several news accounts suggested that his proposed tax on very high incomes would be applied just as the existing Social Security tax is levied on incomes up to $102,000.

All workers pay a 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax on such income. Their employers match it, for a total tax of 12.4 percent. The tax applies only to earned income, not to passive income such as dividends and interest.

In recent weeks, Obama aides have quietly indicated that the proposed tax on incomes above $250,000 might be different in key aspects. The rate probably would be about 2 percent to 4 percent, not 6.2 percent, they said. It's also possible that it would apply to more types of income, including dividends and investments.

As for benefits, the campaign has not said how the proposed tax on very high incomes would translate into new retirement income, if any, for those who pay it.

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