Last month,President Obama addressed Congress  and explained the concept of the Buffett  Rule, “People making more than $1 million a year should not pay a  smaller share of their income in taxes than middle-class families pay. To assist  the Committee in its work, I also included specific tax loophole closers and  measures to broaden the tax base. Together with the expiration of the  high-income tax cuts from 2001 and 2003, these measures would be more than  enough to reach this $1.5 trillion target…They include cutting tax preferences  for high-income households.”

The one big stumbling block to this  strategy is that  the President doesn’t actually write the bills that ultimately become the laws.  Instead, the President  only signs or vetos bills passed by Congress.  If you grew up  in the 70’s like I did, you probably remember the Schoolhouse Rock video,I’m Just a  Bill.  Please take a few minutes to watch this YouTube video for either nostalgic reasons or  as a refresher course in basic Civics.

Let’s take a look at the  recommendations made by the Obama Administration.  Included in their  report, the current Administration outlines their Principles of Tax Reform as  follows:

1. Lower tax  rates. The tax system should be simplified and work for all Americans with  lower individual and corporate tax rates and fewer brackets.

2. Cut  Inefficient and Unfair Tax Breaks. Cut tax breaks that are inefficient,  unfair, or both so that the American people and businesses spend less time and  less money each year filing taxes and cannot avoid their responsibility by  gaming the system.

3. Cut the  deficit. Cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade through tax  reform, including the expiration of tax cuts for single taxpayers making over  $200,000 and married couples making over $250,000.

4. Increase  job creation and growth in the United States. Make America stronger at home  and more competitive globally by increasing the incentive to work and invest in  the United States.

5. Observe  the Buffett Rule. No household making over $1 million annually should pay a  smaller share of its income in taxes than middle-class families pay. As Warren  Buffett has pointed out, his effective tax rate is lower than his secretary’s.  This rule will be achieved as  part of an overall reform that increases the progressivity of the tax code.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t  find anything too earth shattering in these Principles of Tax Reform.  Tax  simplification and the equitableness of the Tax Code have been two issues that  Congress and each President have grappled with ever since the federal income taxes  were enacted on a permanent basis back in 1913.  

The Specifics:

President Obama’s address last  month included some specific changes he would like to see Congress make to  the Tax Code,  including:

Allow the 2001 and 2003 high-income tax cuts to expire

Simply stated, by Congress not  doing anything, the tax rates are set to increase in 2013 for ordinary income, capital gains, and qualified dividends.  The President says that he only wants to see the  tax rates increase for households with income in excess of $250k, however.

A summary of tax breaks enacted in 2001 are available in ourJuly 2001 Newsletter.  You can read about the 2003 tax law changes in ourJune 2003 Newsletter.

Reduce the value  of a deduction

President Obama’s second suggestion  is to reduce the value of itemized deductions and other tax breaks to 28 percent for families with incomes over $250,000 and single individuals with income over $200,000.

Generally, tax deductions reduce a  person’s tax liability based on that person’s tax bracket.  Someone in the  top bracket paying $10k of mortgage interest saves $3.5k in federal income  taxes.

Under this  proposal, even if a taxpayer is in the 33% or 35% tax bracket, the tax break for their deductions will be capped at 28%.  A person in the top bracket, therefore, will pay an extra $700 in federal income taxes for each $10,000 of allowable deductions  claimed. 

According to the President’s  proposal, “This limit would apply to: all itemized deductions; foreign excluded income; tax-exempt interest; employer sponsored health insurance; and selected above-the-line deductions.”

A Green Tinted Lining

As part of his address to Congress,  President Obama proposed that Congress pass The American Jobs Act.  The  President would like to see this Act include a provision that would cut in half  the Social Security taxes currently being withheld from each worker’s wages, as follows:

Cut the  employee payroll tax in half next year for 160 million workers. Almost every  working American pays payroll taxes, and middle-class Americans face a higher  burden because more of their income comes from wages and salaries. The  President’s plan will cut payroll taxes in half for employees next year. Rather  than having 6.2 percent of their wages deducted in payroll taxes, workers will  only pay 3.1 percent next year. This builds on the 2 percentage point payroll  tax reduction that the President secured for workers in 2011—providing 160  million Americans the certainty of ongoing tax relief and increasing the amount  of that relief by more than 50 percent.

With the Social Security Max  currently at $106,800, this provision would save high-income taxpayers as much  as $3,311  each year.  For people in the top tax bracket, this break in Social  Security taxes will offset  the President’s proposed tax increase on the first $47,300 of deductions  claimed.

Wait and See

President Obama’s proposal is just  that, a proposal.  All we know for certain is that the tax rules in place  right now will continue through 2012.  With the next Presidential election  set for November 2012, who knows when Congress will be able to pass a bill  addressing the post-2012 tax rules,  and what changes to the tax laws that  bill will contain.

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