op-ed

Obamacare’s devastating small business tax hikes

Grover Norquist President, Americans for Tax Reform

Out of the 20 new or higher taxes in Obamacare, there are four that most hurt small employers.

Before we get to the tax hikes, though, let’s dispense with the fig leaf of “assistance” that small businesses are given to transition to costly Obamacare mandates. The law creates a “small employer health credit” through 2014 which theoretically allows a business to claim a credit for up to 35 percent of the cost of providing health insurance to employees.

The problem is, the credit was written in such a Byzantine and confusing way that no small employer is actually taking advantage of it. In a recent cost re-estimate of Obamacare, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reduced the expected aggregate claims from the credit to just $21 billion, rather than the $41 billion that was estimated at the time of Obamacare’s passage. The IRS has laughably started a full-court public relations press begging employers to try to claim this complicated credit.

Expect the actual utilization of this credit, which President Obama will tout heavily today and Friday, to be very close to zero in the final analysis.

The first tax increase on small employers is a Medicare payroll tax hike. Under Obamacare, the Medicare payroll tax for wages and self-employment earnings in excess of $250,000 ($200,000 for singles) will rise from 2.9 percent to 3.8 percent. This is a direct tax hike in the marginal income tax rate paid by the self-employed and general partners. It will also affect the wage component of Subchapter-S earnings. And since the majority of small employer profits are taxed in brackets that exceed $250,000, this is also a direct marginal tax increase on the majority of small employer profits.

A percentage point may not seem like a lot, but it really is when combined with President Obama’s budgetary plan to raise the top marginal income tax rate from 35 to 39.6 percent. Small employers pay taxes using the individual tax brackets, and the majority of small employer profits are taxed in the top bracket.

Obamacare also imposes a 3.8 percentage point surtax on “investment income,” starting in 2013. Some of this so-called “investment income” is actually small business profits. Notably, investors in small businesses (limited partners and passive shareholders in Subchapter-S corporations) will face this tax. Active trade or business income is excluded, but of course most of that will face the higher Medicare tax described above. This provision will make it harder for employers to raise capital in order to create jobs and expand business operations.

Next is the jobs-killing employer mandate. This is the “little brother” of the individual mandate which gets more attention. The employer mandate, which takes effect in 2014, will apply to all firms with 50 or more employees. If an employer fails to provide “qualifying health insurance” (which is defined by Obama-appointed bureaucrats at the Department of Health and Human Services), these employers will have to pay a per-employee excise tax fine. The tax is $2,000 per employee ($3,000 if an employee receives coverage through an exchange). If the employer has a waiting period to get into the plan, there is an additional tax of $400-$600.

A small employer with 100 employees could easily find himself paying a tax of $300,000 per year. Even if an employer provides health insurance, it can be deemed “unqualified” by HHS. Just ask the Catholic bishops.

Finally, we again turn to the individual mandate. Many self-employed people choose not to have health insurance — because either they would rather self-insure, they have a mini-med plan or they want to retain capital in their small businesses. This choice is stripped of them by Obamacare. Starting in 2014, everyone must obtain “qualifying” (there’s that word again) health insurance or face an excise tax of at least 2.5 percent of adjusted gross income. If they are an employee of their own firm which has at least 50 employees, the firm would also be subject to the employer mandate excise tax described above. The federal government should not be able to force people to purchase a product that they don’t want and use the IRS as the bludgeon to make them do it. It’s really as simple as that.

Small businesses are among the worst-treated of all groups under Obamacare, but that’s sadly not surprising. President Obama has shown nothing but contempt for Main Street businesses ever since he was a community organizer. Obamacare is simply the logical extension of a life devoted to tearing down the entrepreneurial spirit.

Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform and co-author (with John Lott) of Debacle: Obama’s War on Jobs and Growth and What We Can Do Now to Regain Our Future.