Monday, July 20, 2009

CBPP: House Health Bill’s “A Reasonable Approach”

Last Friday, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a study examining the House of Representative’s much-discussed proposal for funding health care reform. They call the plan “a reasonable approach” and assert that the “impact on small businesses would be modest.” However, as the recession continues, even a small tax increase could delay recovery. Check out a snippet from their study below, but be sure to check out the full explanation of the study (including graphs) at

Reforming the health care system to provide universal health coverage is an urgent priority. But, facing huge projected budget deficits that have the nation on an unsustainable fiscal path, the White House and Congress must enact a health reform plan that is also fully financed and that reduces the growth rate of health care costs over the long term.

Policymakers have been considering two major proposals to help finance health care reform that represent sound tax policy: (1) limiting the tax exclusion for employer-provided health benefits, and (2) capping the value of itemized deductions at 28 percent or a somewhat higher level. Capping the exclusion has the added benefit of helping slow the growth of health care costs. House Democrats have now advanced a third major proposal that also represents sound tax policy: imposing a graduated surcharge on high-income taxpayers.

The House surcharge proposal is reasonable and well targeted. In recent decades, incomes have grown disproportionately for households at the top of the income scale, while their tax burden has fallen substantially. Moreover, despite charges to the contrary, the proposal would have only a small impact on small businesses. The congressional Joint Tax Committee estimates that it would have no impact at all on 96 percent of small business owners — broadly defined as any taxpayer with as little as $1 of business income — and that only half of the 4 percent of small business owners who would be affected derive more than a third of their income from a business. At the same time, the House plan would enhance the ability of small businesses to offer affordable, quality health insurance to their employees.

High-Income Households Have Far Outpaced Others in Recent Decades

The surcharge would affect only the highest-income 1.2 percent of taxpayers, according to the Joint Tax Committee. Very high-income households have benefited handsomely — both absolutely and compared to the rest of the population — from both recent trends in pre-tax incomes and recent changes in tax policy. Congressional Budget Office data show that between 1979 and 2006 (the most recent year for which these data are available): [3]

The before-tax income of the top 1 percent of U.S. households increased by 226 percent, on average (after adjusting for inflation), compared to an increase of just 15 percent for families in the middle fifth of the income spectrum.

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