Perhaps it’s time to rethink the Bush tax cuts.
President Obama wants to let them expire for those making more than $200,000 a year ($250,000 for a couple). The Republican leadership wants to extend them. This is not a clear case of Republicans versus Democrats however. Many blue dogs are leaning toward extending the tax cut ostensibly because it would hurt S corp. business owners.
In a recent speech, President Obama has tied the tax cuts to a three-pronged program including allowing businesses to write off 100% of their research and development through 2011 to stimulate corporate investment and innovation and a $50 billion infrastructure plan, which presumably will provide jobs as well as help repair our languishing bridges railways and highways.
It’s hard to say if any of these measures will actually see the light of day. But it’s important to consider the alternative.
Extending the Bush tax cuts to those making over $200,000 over the next two years would cost us $700 billion. These cuts affect only the top 2% of the population, people who can well afford to see their taxes rise from 35% to 39.6%. As a wise tax attorney recently told me—most people who would have to pay those taxes aren’t that exercised about it. Many of them may have ways to avoid paying them anyway.
We have had these tax cuts in effects for almost a decade now so we know basically what they can and can’t do. Although some argue that cutting these taxes now would derail the recovery, there’s no evidence that keeping them on the very rich will help the economy grow, provide jobs, repair bridges or spur innovation.
Obama’s plans may not be comprehensive and his major efforts have been highly compromised to the point where they often don’t make much sense to those who support him, but at least he is getting something accomplished. You may consider the Dodd Frank bill a travesty of justice. But what about the economic crisis that it was devised to address? Would it really be better to do nothing and just hope it doesn’t happen again?
At the very least, many of you and your clients may be disturbed about the prospect of more government spending in the face of an already staggering budget deficit. But many very smart economists believe the recovery wouldn’t be flagging now if the stimulus had been larger in the first place. It’s hard to argue that the stimulus plan was a mistake. Once again I ask you to think about the alternative. It is pretty much unthinkable.