Monday, September 10, 2012

Stopping Those Tax Loopholes

This is a fun glimpse into an important Republican program about taxes:  The idea that we can lower taxes for everyone, close all the nasty tax loopholes, and then have government tax revenue either rise or stay constant.

That policy aspect requires two important questions:  First, is it really the case that the loopholes could be removed without increasing taxes for the middle classes?  After all, the mortgage deduction is pretty important for that class of taxpayers.

Second, would the Republicans actually pursue a policy of filling the loopholes?  My impression is that all details about that are left murky and hidden, and Paul Ryan in that interview follows the same pattern:



Now the question is, not necessarily what loopholes go, but who gets them. High-income earners use most of the loopholes. That means they can shelter their income from taxation. But if you take those loopholes, those tax shelters away from high-income earners, more of their income is subject to taxation. And that allows us to lower tax rates on everybody — small businesses, families, economic growth.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Congressman, as you know –
RYAN: When Reagan did this, it worked –
STEPHANOPOULOS: — many say it’s difficult –
RYAN: Go ahead, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: — to accept your word if you’re not going to specify which tax loopholes you’re willing to close. Don’t voters have a right to know which loopholes you’re going to go after?
RYAN: So Mitt Romney and I, based on our experience, think the best way to do this is to show the framework, show the outlines of these plans, and then to work with Congress to do this. That’s how you get things done. The other thing, George, is–
STEPHANOPOULOS: Isn’t that a secret plan?
RYAN: — we don’t want to — no, no. No, no. What we don’t want is a secret plan. What we don’t want to do is cut some backroom deal like ObamaCare, and then hatch (ph) it (ph) to the country.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But why not specify the –
RYAN: We want to do this –
STEPHANOPOULOS: — loopholes now?
RYAN: — out in the open –
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not say right now –
RYAN: — because we want to do this –
RYAN: — we want to have this — George, because we want to have this debate in the public. We want to have this debate with Congress. And we want to do this with the consent of the elected representatives of the people, and figure out what loopholes should stay or go and who should or should not get them.
And our priorities are high-income earners should not get these kinds of loopholes. And we should have broad-based policies that go to middle-class taxpayers, to make sure we can advance things that we care about, like charities. But that is a debate we shouldn’t cut in a back room, shouldn’t hatch a secret plan like ObamaCare. We should do it out in the public view where the public can participate.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s exactly what I’m suggesting, having it in public before the election so voters can have that information before they make up their minds.

I'm skeptical about the Republicans actually following suit on this part of their proposals, both because for it to work it the total taxes higher-income individuals pay (and those are the real base of the party) would have to rise and also because corporations would fight like mad to keep their loopholes:  All those corporate deductions which allow some large firms to pay essentially no taxes on their profits.