Obama fails Tax Math 101

J.D. Foster J.D. Foster is the former chief economist at the Office of Management and Budget and former chief economist and senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He now resides in relative freedom in the hills of Idaho.
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The biggest issue in the coming lame-duck session (and perhaps the next Congress) is what to do with the 2001 and 2003 tax relief expiring at the end of next month.

Most of the lines in this political battle are clearly drawn. Conservatives and most Republicans oppose raising taxes. They insist that all the tax relief at least be extended, and preferably made permanent. President Obama calls this “hugely expensive,” preferring instead to raise taxes on small businesses, seniors, investors and savers, but otherwise to protect the middle class from even larger tax hikes.

The current congressional Democratic leadership has been more opaque in their comments, but their actions demonstrate their preferences. Having dawdled throughout 2009 and 2010 with no action taken, they obviously prefer to raise taxes on everyone to fund their spending surge. This was made plain enough last June when Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that even making the middle-class tax relief permanent was “too expensive.” If it’s not permanent, then it’s temporary. If it’s temporary, then Hoyer intends to let them expire.

Obama’s argument that extending all of the tax relief would cost too much is too disingenuous to let stand. Of the $3.6 trillion, 10-year tax hike at issue (Obama’s figures), the president proposes to prevent tax hikes representing 83 percent of the total, while saying that the other 17 percent is too expensive to forgo. If one or the other were too expensive, it would be the 83 percent in middle-class tax relief provisions, not the 17 percent representing the balance.

Obama’s argument about expense is phony. His real goal is to satisfy his political need to raise taxes on “the wealthy” because, in his view, they deserve it. Or more accurately, Washington deserves the money more than those who earn it do.

J.D. Foster is the Norman B. Ture Senior Fellow in the Economics of Fiscal Policy at The Heritage Foundation.