The Treasury Department is considering a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans through a change that would not need approval from Congress, officials said, a move that would follow a package of tax cuts last year that also benefited the super-rich.
The agency is studying whether to allow investment income, known as capital gains, to be adjusted for inflation in a way that shields more of it from taxation. Most capital gains are paid by wealthier Americans, who disproportionately hold large portfolios of investments.
.. The idea has long been advocated by White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, but tax changes this drastic are typically made by Congress
.. Kudlow and others have said the cost should be indexed to inflation. So once an investor sells an investment, if that “cost basis” is considered higher because of inflation, the capital gain would be less, requiring an investor to pay less in taxes.
The top 1 percent seems a fair representation of the rich. This group — about 1.4 million taxpayers — reported adjusted gross incomes of over $466,000 in 2014, the most recent year for which the data is available.
.. The top 1 percent paid a total of $542.6 billion in federal tax, or an astounding 39.5 percent of the total income tax. If you want to take a more expansive view of rich, the top 10 percent (who earn upward of $133,000) pay 71 percent of the total tax.
Do they pay the top rate? Not by a long shot. The average rate for the top 1 percent is 27 percent of their adjusted gross income. (It’s even lower — 24 percent — for the superrich in the 0.001 percent bracket.) The top 10 percent pay an average of 21 percent.
.. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the 10 largest tax expenditures (its term for what most people consider tax breaks) would amount to $12 trillion, or 5.4 percent of gross domestic product, over the decade from 2014 to 2023.
.. The top 1 percent gave $77 billion in 2014, 37 percent of total charitable contribution deductions
.. Why should capital income be taxed at a much lower rate than ordinary income? Capital assets are owned overwhelmingly by the rich. The top 1 percent reported $561 billion in capital gains taxed at the preferential rate, or 68 percent of the total. As a simple matter of math, the rich will never pay anything close to the top statutory rate as long so much of their income is taxed at a much lower rate (currently 20 percent for the top bracket, not counting the Affordable Care Act surcharge of 3.8 percent).
.. This path would require Republicans to set aside a long-held belief that lower capital-gains rates promote more economic growth and investment
But the world is what it is, and a party that offers nothing, whose ideological sclerosis and internal contradictions allow it to offer nothing, might as well just go pass a tax cut and call it a day.
.. the Republican leadership in Congress persuaded itself that it could pull off a complicated fiscal maneuver, using health care reform to change the budget baseline in anticipation of a tax reform more comprehensive and enduring than George W. Bush’s tax cuts 15 years ago.
.. Republicans could just go ahead and cut taxes the way Bush did — without major offsets but with a 10-year expiration date, so that all you would need is 50 votes plus Mike Pence to do it.
.. there are still lots of clever and plausible ways to overhaul and improve the tax code without sacrificing revenue.
.. You could cap various perverse deductions that mostly benefit wealthy blue-state taxpayers, like the home-mortgage and state and local tax deductions, and use the savings to lower rates across the board. You could cut the corporate tax rate and raise the capital-gains tax rate to compensate, as Senator Mike Lee has proposed. You could even (gasp, heresy, gasp) raise the top income tax rate, as Steve Bannon reportedly wants to do, and use the savings to cut payroll taxes or fund a new child tax credit.
.. Republicans don’t seem equipped to pull off anything complicated, they don’t look united enough to take political risks, and they aren’t ideologically ready to pass anything heretical. So barring a sudden transformation in the party and its leadership, a temporary, deficit-financed tax cut is the only thing that has a decent chance of happening
.. One reason among many that Obamacare repeal has run aground is that the deficit picture doesn’t look as dire as it did when the health care law was passed — and Obamacare itself is not driving the kind of spending surge that many of its critics (myself included) feared.
.. Instead, the ugly years of fiscal cliffs and shutdowns and sequesters produced a certain amount of deficit reduction even without a grand bargain, Medicare spending has been coming in lower than expected, and interest rates have stayed historically low.
.. without doing much entitlement reform, we’re in much better shape than either the Simpson-Bowles commission or the deficit hawks of the 1990s projected... I can live with a Trump administration that appoints conservative judges and fails at everything else, since judicial appointments are about the only thing I trust this G.O.P. to do.
the top quintile of earners—those making more than roughly $112,000 a year—have been big beneficiaries of the country’s growth. To make matters worse, this group of Americans engages in a variety of practices that don’t just help their families, but harm the other 80 percent of Americans.
.. if we are serious about narrowing the gap between ‘the rich’ and everybody else, we need a broader conception of what it means to be rich.
the upper-middle class has pulled away from the middle class and the poor on five dimensions:
- income and wealth,
- educational attainment,
- family structure,
- geography, and
- health and longevity
.. They dominate the country’s top colleges, sequester themselves in wealthy neighborhoods with excellent public schools and public services, and enjoy healthy bodies and long lives.
They then pass those advantages onto their children, with parents placing a “glass floor” under their kids.
- They ensure they grow up in nice zip codes,
- provide social connections that make a difference when entering the labor force,
- help with internships,
- aid with tuition and home-buying, and
- schmooze with college admissions officers.
All the while, they support policies and practices that protect their economic position and prevent poorer kids from climbing the income ladder:
- legacy admissions,
- the preferential tax treatment of investment income,
- 529 college savings plans,
- exclusionary zoning,
- occupational licensing, and
- restrictions on the immigration of white-collar professionals.
.. As a result, America is becoming a class-based society, more like fin-de-siècle England than most would care to admit, Reeves argues. Higher income kids stay up at the sticky top of the income distribution. Lower income kids stay down at the bottom. The one percent have well and truly trounced the 99 percent, but the 20 percent have done their part to immiserate the 80 percent, as well
Reeves offers a host of policy changes that might make a considerable difference:
- better access to contraception,
- increasing building in cities and suburbs,
- barring legacy admissions to colleges,
- curbing tax expenditures that benefit families with big homes and capital gains.
.. Expanding opportunity and improving fairness would require the upper-middle class to vote for higher taxes, to let others move in, and to share in the wealth.
.. Prying Harvard admission letters and the mortgage interest deductions out of the hands of bureaucrats in Bethesda, sales executives in Minnetonka, and lawyers in Louisville is not going to be easy.