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The Folly of Obama’s Tax Plan

Senator Obama's proposed 'tax cuts for the middle class' are actually marginal rate hikes in disguise.

Senator Obama’s proposed ‘tax cuts for the middle class’ are actually marginal rate hikes in disguise. http://www.american.com/archive/2008/august-08-08/the-folly-of-obama2019s-tax-plan/Senator Barack Obama declared recently that he wants to “reform our tax code so that it rewards work and not just wealth.” We think that is a great goal if it means a simple tax system with low marginal tax rates. Unfortunately, a close inspection of Obama’s proposals reveals something disquieting: he would raise marginal tax rates for many middle-income taxpayers, a bad move for anyone seeking to promote economic growth. Although Obama is offering a new series of tax breaks, they undermine rather than improve economic incentives. First, whether or not you get those breaks will depend on your income. In Washington, taking away tax breaks as families work harder to make more money is called a “phase-out.” Economists have a different name for it—we call it a tax. Reducing a person’s tax credit as his income goes up also reduces his incentive to earn more income. Second, Obama would make some credits refundable for families with credits bigger than their tax liability, which would also have the nefarious effect of raising marginal tax rates. For example, consider a worker in the 10 percent bracket with $1,000 of tax liability before credits who claims $1,200 in credits. The tax impact of earning an extra $100 depends on whether the credit is refundable. If it’s not refundable, there’s no tax penalty on earning the extra $100 because the worker’s tax liability stays at zero. But if the credit is refundable, earning the extra money pushes the tax up from negative $200 to negative $190—that’s a 10 percent penalty on earning income.

Senator Obama’s proposed ‘tax cuts for the middle class’ are actually marginal rate hikes in disguise. http://www.american.com/archive/2008/august-08-08/the-folly-of-obama2019s-tax-plan/Senator Barack Obama declared recently that he wants to “reform our tax code so that it rewards work and not just wealth.” We think that is a great goal if it means a simple tax system with low marginal tax rates. Unfortunately, a close inspection of Obama’s proposals reveals something disquieting: he would raise marginal tax rates for many middle-income taxpayers, a bad move for anyone seeking to promote economic growth.

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