Barack Obama told the nation last Wednesday that “improvements” in Medicare and hiking taxes on the wealthy would stabilize government spending and bring deficit spending to what can charitably be described as a dull roar. The Wall Street Journal does some fact checking on these claims and finds them entirely false. Even if the “rich” gets defined down to the top 10% of filers — whose average annual household income is $114,000 — the level of revenue from even a 100% tax would still not close the budget gap:
Consider the Internal Revenue Service’s income tax statistics for 2008, the latest year for which data are available. The top 1% of taxpayers—those with salaries, dividends and capital gains roughly above about $380,000—paid 38% of taxes. But assume that tax policy confiscated all the taxable income of all the “millionaires and billionaires” Mr. Obama singled out. That yields merely about $938 billion, which is sand on the beach amid the $4 trillion White House budget, a $1.65 trillion deficit, and spending at 25% as a share of the economy, a post-World War II record.
Say we take it up to the top 10%, or everyone with income over $114,000, including joint filers. That’s five times Mr. Obama’s 2% promise. The IRS data are broken down at $100,000, yet taxing all income above that level throws up only $3.4 trillion. And remember, the top 10% already pay 69% of all total income taxes, while the top 5% pay more than all of the other 95%.
Well, 2008 was a bad year, especially for those whose income relied on capital gains. How about 2005, when the economy was expanding, a period that Obama argues showed the rich succeeding at the expense of the poor? The news isn’t much better, and for good reason:
In 2005 the top 5% earned over $145,000. If you took all the income of people over $200,000, it would yield about $1.89 trillion, enough revenue to cover the 2012 bill for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security—but not the same bill in 2016, as the costs of those entitlements are expected to grow rapidly. The rich, in short, aren’t nearly rich enough to finance Mr. Obama’s entitlement state ambitions—even before his health-care plan kicks in.
In other words, a soak-the-rich policy won’t work, in part because there isn’t enough rich to soak, and in part because the bill is just too high. James Pethokouis delved into the White House’s subsequent release of generalities along which Obama’s new budget would work, and discovers a $2 trillion price tag in it:
If you’re keeping score, what Obama is actually proposing is $1 trillion in new taxes on wealthier Americans (and small businesses) and $1 trillion in higher tax revenues by reducing tax breaks and subsidies for a total of $2 trillion in new taxes over 12 years. That means total debt reduction, not counting interest, would be $4 trillion, 50 percent of which would come from higher taxes. The econ team at Goldman Sachs ran a similar analysis and found that 56 percent of Obama savings over ten years could come from higher tax revenue.
In this way, Obama relies far more on taxes than the two-parts spending/one-part taxes formula of the Obama-Bowles-Simpson debt panel that is supposedly his model. As Obama said, “It’s an approach that borrows from the recommendations of the bipartisan Fiscal Commission I appointed last year.” Not really.
Since we can’t get the money out of the rich, where do all these new tax revenues originate? The WSJ notes that the “loopholes” mentioned by Obama in his speech are targeted to the middle class:
Keep in mind that the most expensive tax deductions, in terms of lost tax revenue, go mainly to the middle class. These include the deductions for state and local tax payments (especially property taxes), mortgage interest, employer-sponsored health insurance, 401(k) contributions and charitable donations. The irony is that even as Mr. Obama says he merely wants the rich to pay a little bit more, his proposals would make the tax code less progressive than it is today.
In the class-war battlefield, the class that takes the most casualties is always the middle class. If that wasn’t clear, then this report from Bloomberg should remove all doubt:
More than 45 percent of U.S. households won’t owe federal income taxes for 2010. That stems from decades of tax cuts and, in the minds of some Republican lawmakers, it’s also a problem.
Policies designed to ease the tax burden of lower-income Americans and offer targeted tax incentives have pushed millions of people off the income tax rolls. That has bolstered an argument that these households don’t have enough of a stake in the political system because they don’t pay income taxes.
“As a matter of fairness, wouldn’t it make more sense if all citizens paid at least something in income taxes?” asked Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, at a March 30 hearing. “I am convinced that it would help us in our fight against excessive federal spending. You get a lot of takers when you ask people if they want more of something and you tell them it’s free.”
There is only one place for the federal government to squeeze for the cash Obama needs to spend on his budget trajectory.