As debate heats up over President Obama’s proposal to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthy but to extend them for everyone else, a nonpartisan Congressional analysis circulated on Capitol Hill on Tuesday provides a look at the impact the plan would have on high-income taxpayers.
Given the progressive nature of the federal income tax system, in which tax rates increase with income, even the richest households would continue to pay the four lower rates on up to the first $250,000 of their income, under the approach being pushed by Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress.
The president has vowed to extend the tax cuts for individuals with less than $200,000 in annual taxable income and couples with less than $250,000 — about 98 percent of American households. About 315,000 households report adjusted gross income of $1 million or more.
Taxpayers with income of more than $1 million for 2011 would still receive on average a tax cut of about $6,300 compared with what they would have paid under rates in effect until 2001, according to the analysis, which was prepared by the Joint Committee on Taxation at the request of the Democratic majority on the House Ways and Means Committee.
That compares, however, with the roughly $100,000 average tax cut that households with more than $1 million in income would receive under current rates.
Filers with taxable income of $500,000 to $1 million would still get on average a tax cut of $6,700 compared with pre-2001 rates, according to the data from the tax analysts. But that compares with roughly $17,500 if the top Bush tax rates were maintained.
If the president gets his way, in 2011 the top two income tax rates — now 33 percent and 35 percent — would revert to the levels before the Bush administration, 36 percent and 39.6 percent, respectively. But the four lower rates would remain 10 percent, 15 percent, 25 percent and 28 percent. For some taxpayers earning up to $250,000, the top marginal rate would remain 33 percent.
The tax-cut debate is shaping up as one of the hottest of the year and will play out in the weeks before voters go to the polls to determine which party controls Congress. Democrats want to extend the tax cuts for all but the wealthy, while Republicans are fighting to maintain them for everyone. (See which races are the hottest)
Most of the tax cuts that were a signature domestic initiative of George W. Bush’s presidency carried an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2010, to limit the potential revenue losses; supporters assumed that they would be extended when the time came.
Extending them for the next 10 years would add about $3.8 trillion to a growing national debt that is already the largest since World War II. About $700 billion of that reflects the projected costs of tax cuts for those in the top 2 percent of income-earners.
With the economy still weak, the issue of the tax cuts has led to an economic debate between those who would end all or some of them to reduce the projected debt and those who say raising taxes on the wealthy could threaten the economic recovery.
For both parties, the dispute has become a defining one as they hone campaign arguments heading toward November.
Speaking of Republicans at a fund-raiser in a wealthy community near Dallas on Monday, Mr. Obama told Democratic donors, “What you see is a governing philosophy on their part that basically comes down to ‘We’re going to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest among us’ — folks who don’t need those tax cuts and weren’t even asking for them, which would cost $700 billion.”
For their part, Republicans do not emphasize the impact of extending the tax cuts for wealthy individuals. Rather, they say Mr. Obama is about to spring a big tax increase on many small-business owners who file their taxes as individuals. Analyses from the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan research organization, show that less than 3 percent of filers with small-business income pay at the top two income tax rates, and many of those are doctors and lawyers in partnerships.