ALISON ACOSTA FRASER, HERITAGE FOUNDATION
Volleys of negotiating counter-offers are coming in faster now that Christmas break and the looming fiscal cliff are just around the corner.
While there is much unsatisfactory with Speaker of the House John Boehner’s (R–OH) Sunday night proposal, let us not forget that the reason we are watching this needless, high stakes drama unfold is due to President Obama’s intractable insistence on tax increases on America’s high earners. After all, he and Congress could simply and quickly pass a bill to extend all current policies and avoid the fiscal cliff entirely—if he wanted to. No, this is really about hiking taxes on high earners. Thus the charade of deficit reduction continues.
Obama’s latest counteroffer is no more acceptable than his first offer. Short on details concerning actual spending reductions, especially on entitlements, it is replete with his requisite tax hikes and (we are shocked) new stimulus spending. The cherry on top is an extension of the debt limit for two years, essentially handing over authority to raise it to the President.
The President originally called for around $800 billion in tax hikes on America’s “highest” earners—those earning $250,000 and up. A ridiculous demand when the economy is still struggling under his big spending and regulatory policies, and one which would squarely hit smaller businesses. You know, the ones who actually create jobs.
Yet, just like Lucy and the football, when Boehner and company offered up $800 billion in tax hikes, Obama quickly doubled his demand to $1.5 trillion in tax hikes—again, all from the highest earners. They, he tells us, can afford to pay a little more. Never mind, of course, that the top 1 percent of earners already pay 37 percent of all income taxes. Somehow we are to believe this is a “balanced approach.”
Obama pitches all this on the pretext that we can simply go back to the tax rates we had under Clinton. Wrong! His dirty little tax secret is that he has already hiked taxes on high earners under Obamacare. First the law added a surtax of 0.9 percent in addition to the Medicare payroll tax on those earning over $250,000. For the first time ever, Obamacare will apply this higher rate of 3.8 percent to investment income on January 1. Obama won’t tell you that going back to Clinton-era tax rates will actually result in higher taxes on wages, dividends, and capital gains.
They say if you want less of something, then tax it. For Obama, this works fine on financial transactions, carbon emissions, driving, and junk food. But evidently, for him, not so much on a strong vibrant economy. And those Clinton boom years? They weren’t ushered in after the Clinton tax hike—only after the Clinton–Gingrich tax cut!
Rather than working with Republicans on tax proposals that will actually grow the economy, Obama is now simply fighting over his definition of “high income” while we are left to wonder how much this $1.2 trillion tax hike will slow the economy.
As for the $1.2 trillion spending reductions, the only reason they are there is because Boehner insisted on them. But $100 billion in cuts would whack the defense budget, which is already reeling from earlier budget cuts. Yet the real spending and debt crisis comes from unaffordable entitlement programs. While Obama is insisting on balance on the tax side, he is sorely lacking in leadership here. As a recent Washington Post editorial opined:
Elections do have consequences, and Mr. Obama ran on a clear platform of increasing taxes on the wealthy. But he was clear on something else, too: Deficit reduction must be “balanced,” including spending cuts as well as tax increases. Since 60 percent of the federal budget goes to entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, there’s no way to achieve balance without slowing the rate of increase of those programs.
We know Obama is open to changing the inflation calculation and slowing the benefit growth in Social Security. But what else? What about the proposals in his own budget, which would increase premiums on Medicare? He could easily broaden his proposals with additional uncontroversial steps to begin the process of strengthening and reining in Social Security and Medicare. All he needs to do is lead.
Some polls may show that Americans think taxes should be part of a deficit deal; but what the polls do not always show is their utter distrust that Washington would use new revenues to actually reduce the deficit. Here, Obama does not let them down. He reportedly wants $80 billion in new spending on infrastructure and unemployment benefits.
In exchange for all of this, he wants to raise the debt limit by enough to fuel his big spending goals for two years. This is utterly unacceptable. Americans know you cannot reduce the deficit when you plan to actually spend more. Americans also know that when Washington lifts the debt limit, it will not control spending. The debt limit puts the very pressure lawmakers need to account for out-of-control spending and make vital course corrections to bring spending under control, lest we face a Euro-style debt crisis in the future.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is actually insisting that “[t]he President’s proposal is the only proposal we have seen that achieves the balance that is so necessary.” Balance, evidently, is in the eyes of the beholder. As the Post noted, 60 percent of the budget stems from entitlements.
In just 13 short years—by the time today’s kindergarteners enter college—entitlements and interest on the debt will eat up all tax revenues. A truly balanced approach must start where the problem starts—with substantive reforms to entitlements. While the President maintains that you cannot cut your way to prosperity, you certainly cannot tax your way there.
Alison Acosta Fraser is Director of the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies where she oversees Heritage Foundation research on a wide range of domestic economic issues including federal spending, taxes, energy and environment, retirement savings and regulation.
This article was originally published at Heritage.org. Used with permission.