Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Is this the Tax Reform Obama and the New Congress can Agree on?

The mid term elections are over and both President Obama and Congress are going to have to decide on a few tax laws in the next few weeks. Earlier today Reuters published an article bringing attention to a non-partisan tax proposal from Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, and Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire, that many expect the President and Congress to consider.

The proposal would simplify income tax rates for individuals and businesses, and change laws so that businesses could immediately write off capital investments. It would also raise capital gains tax rates, but would reduce the federal budget deficit, while reducing the average family's tax liability by around $4,000.

Reuters reports:

    President Barack Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission has a mandate to cut the U.S. budget gap. But the White House panel may surprise in another area: tax reform. Democrats and Republicans are taking a hard look at a plan that would simplify the code and cut corporate taxes. Although not perfect, it would be a big improvement.

    Much of the public focus on the commission, which is expected to vote on any recommendations it makes next month, has been on its efforts to slash spending. Two areas that could suffer the knife are tax breaks and Social Security, analysts say. But panelists are also assessing ways to reform America’s labyrinthine tax code to promote economic growth, and thereby more tax revenue to help pay down the debt.

    Smartly, members won’t recommend a total scrapping of the current system in favor of some ideal tax code concocted by academics. No politically unfeasible value-added or flat taxes here (though a flat consumption tax would be ideal). Instead, they’re examining a plan devised by politicians — Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, and Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire and panel member — that uses the current system as a baseline and then tweaks it a whole lot.

    The Wyden-Gregg idea mostly succeeds. For individuals, it would reduce the number of tax rates from six to three and dump the alternative minimum tax. It would also combine several existing government savings plans into one. For business, Wyden-Gregg would combine multiple rates, including a 35 percent top rate, into a flat, 24 percent corporate rate. Small businesses could immediately write off capital investments. And companies could only deduct part of their interest payments, making equity financing more competitive. All great, great stuff.

    There are some downsides, which is to be expected of a plan meant to win votes on both sides of the aisle. It would raise the top capital gains tax rate to 23 percent from 15 percent (not counting what happens with the Bush tax cuts or the new Obama Medicare tax). It would also subject the foreign income of U.S. multinationals to immediate taxation. Most advanced economies tax only income earned domestically.

Read more here

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