We are in the midst of yet another great American discussion about taxation. Perhaps no policy area has become more sensitive or controversial. At stake are two vital concerns for the American future: How will we generate sufficient revenue to balance our budget without discouraging economic activity, and will the burden of taxation fall equitably on all Americans?
Tax policy shapes almost everything individuals and enterprises do as they participate in the economy. With bad design, tax policy can discourage economic activity. With good design, it can encourage it. Yet our current tax system is an accretion of decades of patchwork decisions that came into being with no systematic thought for their implications for job creation or economic growth. Every year, individual taxpayers are forced to confront a Rube Goldberg contraption of bewildering complexity that leads to a range of undesirable outcomes, including the fact that millions of Americans have to pay hundreds of dollars to have their tax returns prepared by a professional who understands the rules. Corporations, for their part, are subject to rules and regulations that all too often encourage tax gamesmanship while discouraging reinvestment in the American economy.
In approaching the nation’s fiscal challenges, President Obama has repeatedly called for a “balanced approach,” by which he means cutting spending but also raising taxes. That may sound appealing on the surface. However, the reality is that before President Obama exploded the size of the federal government, our existing tax rates were more or less adequate to pay for the government we needed. President Obama claims now to be offering a compromise. In fact, by undoing only some of the harm he has inflicted on our fiscal health over the past three years, he would ratchet up permanently the size of government and the tax burden on the American people.
President Obama’s proclivity for fostering uncertainty about the long-term shape of the tax code is particularly troublesome. He has embraced one temporary solution after the next while rejecting permanent adjustments that would bring some predictability and stability to investment decision-making. The result is a business climate marked by hesitation. When President Obama complains about banks refusing to lend and businesses refusing to hire, he should consider the impact of his own policies on that state of affairs.
No discussion of President Obama’s tax policies would be complete without a reference to Obamacare and its $500 billion in tax increases. Whenever President Obama discusses the need for more tax revenues, Americans should remember that he already got them and spent them on a health care scheme that is itself proving to be hugely disruptive to the economy.
Reducing and stabilizing federal spending is essential, but breathing life into the present anemic recovery will also require fixing the nation’s tax code to focus on jobs and growth. To repair the nation’s tax code, marginal rates must be brought down to stimulate entrepreneurship, job creation, and investment, while still raising the revenue needed to fund a smaller, smarter, simpler government. The principle of fairness must be preserved in federal tax and spending policy.
America’s individual tax code applies relatively high marginal tax rates on a narrow tax base. Those high rates discourage work and entrepreneurship, as well as savings and investment. With 54 percent of private sector workers employed outside of corporations, individual rates also define the incentives for job-creating businesses. Lower marginal tax rates secure for all Americans the economic gains from tax reform.
- Make permanent, across-the-board 20 percent cut in marginal rates
- Maintain current tax rates on interest, dividends, and capital gains
- Eliminate taxes for taxpayers with AGI below $200,000 on interest, dividends, and capital gains
- Eliminate the Death Tax
- Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
The U.S. economy’s 35 percent corporate tax rate is among the highest in the industrial world, reducing the ability of our nation’s businesses to compete in the global economy and to invest and create jobs at home. By limiting investment and growth, the high rate of corporate tax also hurts U.S. wages.
- Cut the corporate rate to 25 percent
- Strengthen and make permanent the R&D tax credit
- Switch to a territorial tax system
- Repeal the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)