Solving the Nation's Budget Woes
Huge deficits were not caused by the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2007, with both fully burdening the Treasury, the federal deficit was only $161 billion -- now it exceeds $1 trillion.
Spending on health care, social security and other public pensions is up $666 billion -- more than total spending for either defense or other civilian activities. Without systemic reforms, annual entitlement spending will increase another $1.1 trillion by 2020.
No tax increase on the wealthy -- short of driving offshore everyone who can provide services via the Internet -- can tackle that bill.
Yet, President Obama in his February budget and proposals since only asks for additional taxes on the wealthy, few net savings in spending and no additional taxes for anyone else.
Raising top rates would hit the wrong people. In jurisdictions like New York and Maryland, adding in payroll, state and local income taxes, business property taxes and the like, marginal rates on many small businesses already approach 50%.
Anyone who even casually studies economics knows taxing an activity reduces it. That's why progressives want a carbon tax to reduce fossil fuels use. Sadly, that reasoning applies to new investment too, and boosting marginal tax rates on small businesses above 50% will surely hurt expansion and jobs creation.
That said, wake up Republicans! Taxes are way too low on financial engineering and many forms of compensation to the richest Americans. Capital gains rates of 15% on investments held merely a year, and permitting many corporate executives and private equity engineers to pay similar rates on their compensation, adds little to real investment or employment -- more likely, it ships jobs overseas.
Closing loopholes and adjusting capital gains to inflation by the length of time those are held would boost tax revenues and make the system fairer.
The most sacred cow -- the mortgage interest deduction -- is simply not needed to support homeownership. Canada doesn't have it and enjoys similarly high rates of ownership. Both countries are land-intensive with more room to spread populations around major cities than Europe.
Renting among the middle class is highest in North America where land is most expensive, even though high incomes make the value of the mortgage interest deduction the greatest -- for example, in New York City.
Phasing out wasteful deductions and credits, and tackling entitlement reforms -- rather than tweaking Medicare and Medicaid eligibility rules, payment rates and the like -- are needed for real progress.