Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that his debt ceiling bill, in a bow to Republicans, includes no tax increases. But does it really?
An analysis from the Republican Senate Budget Committee staff shows that Reid’s bill includes gimmicks that, if passed, would account for approximately $3.8 trillion in revenue — or tax increases.
The maneuvering is complicated; but when explained properly, it becomes clear.
Reid’s proposal includes a provision that “deems” budget resolutions for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, but Senate Democrats have not yet produced a 2012 budget proposal, much less one for 2013.
Within those anticipated budget resolutions lie the tax increases, according to the analysis, and here is where it gets tricky.
When the Congressional Budget Office scores a proposal, it uses either current policy or current law as its baseline. Reid’s bill is based on current law, which assumes certain tax breaks will expire according to pre-determined scheduled. That is a big deal.
The 2001–2003 Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of 2012. And some business tax breaks, “death tax” cuts, and the patch for the Alternative Minimum Tax expire at the end of 2011. Reid’s proposal assumes that Congress will not act to renew or extend those expiring tax breaks. (RELATED: Senate tables Boehner’s debt ceiling plan)
The Alternative Minimum Tax patch is a tax that runs parallel to the regular tax code for high-income Americans. If a taxpayer falls within the right bracket (a high one), he must use the AMT to calculate his federal tax. The AMT targets items that are write-offs or tax-exempt for people in lower income brackets.
Congress acts to “fix” or raise the AMT patch every year, in order to ensure that it does not inadvertently include middle-class families.
Reid’s proposal assumes Congress will not act to fix the AMT at the end of 2011.
All told, the expired tax cuts would cost $3.8 trillion.
According to the Republican staff analysis, the baseline is not the only gimmick in Reid’s proposal, but it could be the worst. (RELATED: Rep. Tim Scott: SC delegation collaborated to pledge ‘no’ votes Thursday)
Another questionable measure is $1 trillion in savings achieved by cutting the defense budgets for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The analysis questions that claim of $1 trillion in savings, saying that the related spending is not even supposed to occur.
Reid’s proposal could come up for a vote as early as Saturday evening. A CBO analysis of the proposal, using the current law baseline, found it would cut $2.2 trillion in ten years. Friday, Republican members of the Senate Budget Committee all signed a letter to Reid, voicing their strong opposition to his plan. (Download the letter here)
Late Friday, the House passed Speaker of the House John Boehner’s Budget Control Act. Shortly thereafter, the Senate voted to table it.