The Senate Finance Committee today approved a package of 50-plus tax breaks that expired last year known as "tax extenders." Unfortunately, they chose to extend almost all of them for two years by adding the costs of the tax cuts to the national debt.
The tax breaks are called the "tax extenders" because Congress typically only extends these expiring provisions a year or two at a time, but many of these provisions are quasi-permanent. (The research credit, for instance, has been extended at least 15 times since its creation in 1981.) The provisions expired at the end of last year, but Congress can extend them retroactively because most people do not pay their 2015 taxes until 2016.
The bill costs $95 billion over ten years to extend all 50-plus provisions for two years (retroactively for 2015 and forward for 2016). The Committee did not offer a way to pay for the cost, so the amount will be added to the deficit. In markup, the Committee did slightly expand more than a dozen of the provisions and the expansion was paid for, as opposed to extenders legislation in the House of Representatives which dramatically expanded some provisions by adding to the deficit.
The House Budget Committee Democrats jumped into the transportation debate last week with a proposed surface transportation reauthorization that mirrors the President's proposal. The six-year bill includes $478 billion of spending, which would increase spending above current levels by about $56 billion over six years and $93 billion over ten years based on the score of the President's budget. The Highway Trust Fund is funded with $41 billion of revenue from limiting inversions, enough to keep the trust fund solvent through FY 2017.
The inversion policy change would lower the threshold for determining when a U.S. company has inverted and is still treated as a U.S. company for tax purposes. Currently, when a U.S. and foreign company merge, the new company is still treated as a U.S. company if 80 percent or more of the shares remain American-owned. Last fall the Treasury Department introduced rules to prevent companies from gaming the current threshold, while this new bill would lower it to 50 percent. The $41 billion of revenue would fund part of the transportation reauthorization, although it is much less than the $210 billion one-time tax on U.S. companies' foreign-held earnings that the President proposed to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent into 2023.
The Senate Finance Committee has been working all year in five bipartisan working groups on tax reform, and today they have reports to show for it. Of particular interest is the international tax reform working group's report, since there has been some potential common ground emerging between the two parties, and this reform has been linked to a Highway Trust Fund solution. We will summarize the other four reports in a later post.
For background, the federal government taxes U.S. multinational corporations on their foreign income with a deferral system. This means that "active" foreign income is generally only taxed when it is repatriated to the U.S., while "passive" income – basically financial income that is highly fungible and mobile – is taxed immediately. The companies get foreign tax credits for the taxes they pay to foreign governments to prevent double-taxation.
The working group's framework discusses five issues in international tax reform:
The Tax Policy Center (TPC) recently released a primer on carbon taxes. The report outlines how the construction of a carbon tax matters for its efficacy in reducing emissions, overall impact on economic well-being, and distributional impact. Particular focus is given to analyzing the potential winners and losers under a carbon pricing regime and how the revenue generated by the tax can be used to alter these effects. Conveniently, the report comes on the heels of a new carbon tax bill (described below) and new research released by CBO, which forecasts hurricane damage to rise five-fold by 2075 as a result of climate change.
Ways and Means Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) have introduced a bill to close a well-known tax loophole that allows investment and private equity fund managers to pay a lower rate on their taxes. The Carried Interest Fairness Act would close a loophole allowing fund managers to classify their income as long-term capital gains, which is taxed at a top rate of 20 percent, instead of wage income, which is taxed at a top rate of 39.6 percent. (Neither number includes Medicare taxes on investments and wages.)
Investment managers often have a partnership share in their investment fund, which is structured as a "passthrough" entity. When the fund does well and its assets increase, each partner's share of the gain is taxed as capital gains. Fund managers receive some of their compensation in the form of capital gains, even though they are being compensated for their work, not investing their own money.
The House is considering trade legislation (H.R. 1314, H.R. 1295, and H.R. 644) this week that would fast-track authority for a few major trade deals that are currently being negotiated, change some trade enforcement rules, and extend various other trade-related provisions. Just as the House's previous bills and the Senate's bills (S. 995, S. 1267, S. 1268, and S. 1269) did, the costs contained in the legislation are paid for over ten years with savings from across the budget.
Update (6/12/15): A new CBO score estimates that repealing IPAB will cost $7.1 billion over ten years, with all of the cost recorded after 2021. The text has been updated to reflect this score.
The House Ways and Means Committee today will markup several bills, including repeal of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) and the medical device tax. You can find out more about the markup on the Ways and Means Committee website.
Unlike full ACA repeal, these policies stand a chance of overcoming a Presidential veto due to the bipartisan support already exhibited for each: as of this writing, the medical device tax repeal bill in the House (HR 160) has 281 cosponsors while the IPAB repeal bill (HR 1190) has 233 cosponsors. However, repealing these policies without offsetting savings from health care or revenue would be a mistake. IPAB, in particular, should not be abolished without a replacement that can similarly restrain long-term Medicare cost growth.
The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) has estimated that repealing the 2.3 percent medical device tax would cost $26.5 billion over ten years. However, JCT estimates that the amendment in the nature of a substitute that is expected to replace the bill in markup will reduce revenues by $24.4 billion over the same period.
Although the original co-sponsors of the bill, Reps. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) and Ron Kind (D-WI), said they expect the bill to be offset, no cost-savers have been produced yet. We suggested bundling payments for inpatient care as one option, which not only would produce enough savings to fully offset repeal but also achieve much of its savings from providers cutting their medical device costs. Thus, the medical device industry would still be asked to contribute to deficit reduction, but in a more efficient manner. There are many other options available as well, as we showed at the time and in our latest health care options.
|Potential Offsets for Medical Device Tax Repeal|
|Memo: Repeal Medical Device Tax||-$24 billion|
|Expand bundled payments for inpatient care||$25 billion|
|Reduce state Medicaid provider taxes to 4.5 percent of patient revenues||$35 billion|
|Reduce Medicare coverage of hospital "bad debts"||$30 billion|
|Encourage use of generic drugs by low-income Part D beneficiaries||$20 billion|
|Equalize payments for similar services performed in different settings||$20 billion|
|Increase Medicare Advantage coding intensity adjustment||$20 billion|
|Increase Medicaid drug rebates||$10 billion|
|Move up "Cadillac tax" by one year to 2017||$35 billion|
|Eliminate tax breaks for oil and gas companies||$40 billion|
|Increase cigarette tax by 50 cents||$35 billion|
|Close "John Edwards/Newt Gingrich" loophole||$35 billion|
|Limit tax benefit of retirement accounts||$30 billion|
|Eliminate tax exclusion for private activity bonds||$30 billion|
|Require Social Security numbers for refundable portion of child tax credit||$25 billion|
|Eliminate the mortgage interest deduction for second homes and yachts||$15 billion|
Source: CBO, JCT
The Congressional budget resolution proposes to bring the budget into balance by reducing spending $5.3 trillion over the next decade while keeping revenue at current law levels (i.e., no tax cuts). But at the same time, it calls for roughly $2 trillion worth of tax cuts from repealing taxes in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and extending various expired tax breaks. Some have suggested (subscription required) this $2 trillion difference could be bridged with dynamic growth effects that must now be scored by the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). However, we find that even under very generous assumptions, the use of dynamic scoring could only recover about one-third of the lost revenue.
||Direct Revenue Impact||Dynamic Impact (Generous)||Max Percent of Revenue Recovered|
|Repeal ACA Tax & Coverage Provisions||~$1.3 trillion||~$0.3 trillion
|Revive Extenders and Enact Tax Reform||~$0.7 trillion||~$0.4 trillion||~55%|
|Total Revenue Lost||~$2 trillion||~$0.7 trillion||~35%|
The $2 trillion revenue gap in the budget resolutions comes from two sources. First, the budget calls for the repeal of the tax increases enacted in the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") to help pay for the expansion of health insurance coverage. We estimate this would cost roughly $1.3 trillion over the next ten years, based on 2012 estimates. The budget resolution also calls for budget process reforms that would allow temporary or expired tax breaks to be continued without offsets, a move that could reduce revenue somewhere in the range of $700 billion, depending on the exact details.
At the same time, the budget calls for repealing the coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act and enacting tax reform, two changes which could produce additional economic growth and therefore higher revenue collection. Yet this additional revenue – at least as scored by JCT and CBO – will almost certainly fall short of the $2 trillion in revenue losses.
The Peterson Foundation's Solutions Initiative III produced five different fiscal plans that would improve the current long-term budget outlook. We have already gone over the topline numbers for the plans, but another important aspect is how they get to those numbers. Below are four takeaways from the policies that the plans propose.
Consensus on the Gas Tax
Lawmakers will have to find a way to fund the Highway Trust Fund in the next few months, and one of the possible solutions that has gained popularity with the current relatively low gas prices has been raising the gas tax. Four of the five plans - the American Action Forum (AAF) being the exception - proposed increasing the gas tax by a significant amount. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) would increase it by 11.7 cents and index it to inflation, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) would increase it by 15 cents and index it to inflation, and the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Economic Policy Institute (EPI) would increase it by an unspecified amount. AEI's and BPC's increases would fully close the trust fund shortfall through 2025. We also proposed increasing fuel taxes by 9 cents in our plan The Road to Sustainable Highway Spending.
No One Likes the Sequester
The sequester will be a big deal in the coming months when lawmakers will have to decide the level of spending for appropriations. The President's budget would repeal most of the sequester for FY 2016, while the Congressional budget would leave the sequester in place but provide backdoor sequester relief for defense through the war spending category. A notable theme in the think tanks' plans is that all of them propose some form of sequester relief, and three of them would provide sequester relief to both defense and non-defense. The only plans that left the sequester in place were AEI's for non-defense spending and EPI's for defense spending. Clearly, none of the plans were satisfied with the tight caps that the sequester prescribes, although they varied on how much to lift them (AEI stood out in particular on defense, while EPI had much, much higher non-defense caps). Although these plans do not make changes to the budget until FY 2017, their approaches can be instructive for lawmakers for FY 2016.
CRFB has released a new compendium of over 150 options to reduce mandatory spending and raise revenue. Despite declining in deficits in recent years, the debt is still projected to rise substantially over the long term. In addition, a series of upcoming Fiscal Speed Bumps will force lawmakers to make decisions about spending and revenue that could require large amounts of offsets, or potentially add almost $2 trillion to the debt.
Click here to see the full list of options.
Our list of options is meant to assist in finding fiscally responsible Speed Bump solutions, achieve some of the unspecified savings in the budget resolution, and help make the country's fiscal situation sustainable.
This paper updates and expands a health care and revenue options report released during the fiscal cliff discussions in late 2012. The new list also focuses on revenue and health care but also includes options for other mandatory (non-health, non-Social Security) spending that may be useful in the months ahead.