August 5th, 2009
03:17 PM ET
11 years ago

Obama agenda: Taxes, not just health care

Before health care can be cleared off the plate, Obama will have to answer some key tax questions.

Before health care can be cleared off the plate, Obama will have to answer some key tax questions.

President Obama's fall agenda has grown largeras some of the biggest decisions - and fights - over health care reform have been punted to September ... at the earliest.

But health reform is not the only major initiative he wants to get done. Far from it. There's climate change. There's reforming Wall Street. And, of course, there's passing a budget for 2010 at a time of huge deficits. Running in the background to all of this will be one of the biggest
issues the Obama administration must address: taxes.

"As soon as they can clear health care off the plate, it will be taxes, taxes, taxes," said Anne Mathias, director of research at Concept Capital's
Washington Research Group.

Health reform taxes: Before health care can be cleared off the plate, Obama will have to answer some key tax questions.

For starters, he will need to be more explicit about what he will accept in terms of increasing taxes to pay for health reform and indicate exactly which of the revenue raisers on the table in Congress he considers deal-breakers.

The president originally proposed limiting the itemized deductions that high-income tax filers could take, an idea that fell flat with lawmakers. He doesn't like what had been a leading idea in the Senate to help fund reform –taxing what are currently tax-free health benefits that workers receive from their employers. But at various times he has indic ated indirectly he might be open to it in some limited form.

Now the idea gaining currency in the Senate is to tax insurers who offer very expensive plans. Critics say such a tax could either be passed on to workers through higher premiums or reduced benefits. In the House, meanwhile, the leading idea is to impose a surtax - or additional tax - on thehighest-income households.

"The problem here is there are no good ideas," said Clint Stretch, managing principal for tax policy at Deloitte Tax.

Translation: Only proposals to cut taxes typically generate support.

Winning the debate over a tax hike is guaranteed hard slogging. Estate taxes: Regardless of what happens with health reform, lawmakers
and the administration will have to make a decision about what to do about the estate tax. Otherwise, it will be repealed for one year, starting on Jan. 1,2010.

Since that's revenue the country can't afford to lose, what's most likely to happen is that Congress will extend the estate tax for one year at the 2009 exemption levels, Mathias and Stretch said. In that case, the first $3.5 million of an individual's estate would be exempt from the federal estate tax. And the taxable portions of the estate would then be taxed at rates up to 45%.

Then in 2010, lawmakers are likely to address what to do with the estate tax on a more permanent basis. Obama has proposed making the estate tax permanent at the 2009 exemption levels.

But doing so will look like a revenue loser over 10 years. That's because it would raise less tax money than what's set to happen under current law. If nothing is done by 2011, the first $1 million of an estate would be exempt from the tax and the top rate would be 55%.

Climate change taxes: Whether or not lawmakers succeed in getting a climate change bill ready for the president's signature before the year is out, there is likely to be discussion over several revenue issues. For example, what to do with revenue generated from a cap-and-trade program in which carbon-emission permits are bought and sold?

Corporate taxes: Obama has said he wants to close what he calls corporate tax loopholes.

The administration laid out a few proposals to that effect earlier in the year, particularly with regard to U.S. companies doing business overseas. And Obama created a tax reform panel and asked it to make suggestions by Dec. 4 about how to raise more revenue. Corporate tax breaks are a focus for the group.

But it's not clear how Obama's corporate tax proposals will fly given that taxwriters on Capitol Hill have already crafted many of their own
proposals. Some lawmakers only want to curb corporate breaks and simplify the corporate tax code if rates are lowered, a step Obama has not yet proposed.

"The Hill knows where it wants to go on tax reform generally. They want to close the tax gap and they want to do international tax reform," Stretch said. But he doesn't envision the changes as big revenue raisers per se. Rather, he said, the overarching goal would be to make U.S. businesses operating abroad more competitive.

"It won't be about raising revenue, but about lowering rates. The point of doing it is to generate more business," Stretch said.

Although discussions will be had, he only thinks there's a 50/50 chance that international corporate tax reform will be completed in the next year. Kitchen sink taxes: There are a host of tax provisions that, barring lawmaker action, will expire in 2009 and 2010. Many are tax breaks that companies and individuals have come to expect and which lawmakers typically extend every year. Among these are the research and development credit for businesses, relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax for middle- and upper-middle-income families and various renewable energy tax credits.

What's very possible is that extensions for most such expiring provisions will be bundedl into one bill at some point next year. "There's no way they can get through 2010 without a tax bill," Mathias said.

The midterm elections provide added incentive, she noted. "Democrats will want to campaign on extending popular provisions."

Filed under: President Obama • Taxes
soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. Kevin in Ohio

    Taxes have been on his agenda all along. And it will cost us all...even those of us on fixed incomes.

    August 5, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  2. Randolph Carter

    Repeal the Bush tax cuts for starters. Have a nice day!

    August 5, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  3. Moderate Democrat

    I have an idea....roll back the tax code to when Reagan was President. That's more then fair. Thats the highest they have been in AGES!

    Republicans are good at lying about taxes, but never hold their word.

    Ask Bush Senior: "Read my lips...I'm lying like all other republicans"

    August 5, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  4. dave

    CNN’s current terrible ratings indicate it has lost its core viewership. This news can only make the situation worse. The point has arrived where Jeffrey Toobin and Fareed Zakaria are the only two intelligent, authoritative voices on CNN. The departures of Aaron Brown and Miles O’Brien are proving to be the beginning of the end of CNN’s credibility as a reliable news source.

    August 5, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  5. Zero.

    Dont this make yeh'all feel happy you elected this guy.

    August 5, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  6. Angus McDugan

    Brace for impact every April 15th. The government will run everything under the Obama disaster. We need a government that governs.

    August 5, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  7. Scott, Tucson

    Remember...Obama promised not to raise taxes not one penny on the middle class. Watch for his CHANGE of mind.

    August 5, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  8. phoenix86

    Obama's Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer agenda:

    How to increase taxes on the poor and middle class without having to take the blame for it?


    Obama's only hope of re-election is that the voters are even more stupid in 2012 than they were in 2008.

    August 5, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  9. George

    Tax increase w to the wealthy, like the CEO.s that shipped our jobs overseas, the wall street people that stole our pensions, or the bankers that de-regulated and also stole our pensions. Yeah I sure hope they have their taxes trippled. They destroyed our country and now cry HELP. They can take, but they sure can't give. May they rot in their mansions.

    August 5, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  10. Henry Miller

    I suppose I shouldn't be shocked by the appalling greed of politicians, but I am. No matter how badly the people of this country are hurting economically, they can think of nothing but ever sneakier ways to deprive Americans of the money they've worked for and earned.

    Has it ever occurred to the Congressional bloodsuckers that the role of American citizens isn't just to do as they're told and hand over their paychecks? Seems unlikely. Government of the politicians, by the politicians, and for the politicians...

    August 5, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  11. Hugo

    Right, no new taxes to the middle class! Cap and Tax Bill will result in a 25 to 30% increase in the cost of goods consumed by US tax payers so that the industries producing those goods and services can pay their taxes! Once again, we the middle class pay! How about a tax on career politicians and their elitist healthcare benefits? How about accountability for the head of the medicaid and medicare oversight committee, Henry Waxman (D) that has watched up to $3 billion a year be fraudulently spent out of the system for 30 years and done nothing!?

    August 5, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  12. JB

    Remember your promise. The one that contributed to your election, no taxes if you make under $250,000. I am willing to bet he will come out and say "just kidding, your taxes are going up. How else are illegals going to get free healthcare." By the way, has anyone within the administration thought about the ramifications of giving free healthcare to illegals? If our borders aren't secured by then, every poor latino will be marching over the border.

    August 5, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  13. arivera

    I hope he taxes the crap out of the CEO for sigma making 5000 an hour of the backs of poor and sick Americans. The corporate evil will never give in without a fight and we are here to make that happen. The white male republican party is their minions but the good in this country has got the momentum.

    August 5, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  14. Gary

    We have a problem in this country, 50% of the country doesn't work and doesn't pay any federal income, social security or payroll taxes. Then 30% of those who actually do work don't pay any federal income taxes. The top 5% of the country pay 2/3 of all federal taxes!!! This is unfair.

    If you want to fix our economy then EVERYONE must work and EVERYONE must pay some taxes. If EVERYONE is working and EVERYONE is paying some federal income taxes and we still have a deficit then I guess I'm okay raising taxes on the rich a little bit more. But we (the workers) are fed up paying higher taxes so that lazy people can sit around and not work or oithers can work but not pay any taxes.

    August 5, 2009 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  15. Tom

    "Taxes taxes taxes." This is the same old tired lie that the GOP trots out every time the Democrats are about to get something good done for the American people. We know better than to believe this. Obama will not be taxing the middle class or poor.

    August 5, 2009 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  16. LacrosseMom

    What is this CNN more GOP propaganda? Are you "Faux News"?

    August 5, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  17. Johnny DC

    This liar is going to deploy a SALES TAX to pay for health care. Mark my words.

    He will claim that this is not a tax on the "middle class", as promised... when in reality, the middle class will bear the burden of this tax.

    Wake up, America. The man is a liar and strives to reshape American wealth at the cost of freedom, capitalism, and the American dream where we work hard to succeed.

    August 5, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  18. Enough

    Can't wait to see how he will handle this, considering we heard the lie of 95% of Americans will NOT see their taxes go up one dime. He's already passed that cap and tax!

    August 5, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  19. JGB

    He increases taxes and he is out the door in 4. I am not willing to pay more taxes, I pay plenty and would like to keep some of the money I work for. How greedy that I should be able to decide how to spend a little bit of MY money.

    August 5, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  20. Grrr-awful-o

    Taxes! Taxes won't go up. The rich will pay them. Haven't you been listening? LOL! (How dumb can you really be?)

    August 5, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  21. Chris

    This man is the farthest left of any left winger there ever was -– in this country! You would have to visit the early history of 'other' countries where the government has completely controlled the lives of those doing the work to find someone who wants everything produced by the workers. These types of people want the lower class to 'share' yet will live at a higher standard -- i.e. -- their exemptions from a universal healthcare plan.

    August 5, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  22. Bedtime for Obonzo

    Here comes that "hopey, changy thingy" you voted for. Bend over.

    August 5, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  23. Sean

    Party in denial, eh? Sounds like the Republicans to me. They have flat out screwed up and are looking aywhere to blame anybody else. They are on a direct course to nowhere. It is too bad- this country doesn't need a failed political party, it needs a viavble second choice. The Republicans are instisting it isn't them.

    August 5, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  24. dg

    higher taxes...thats what will pay for health scare......the govt screwed the whole system, now they are going to fix it? dont.... you.... believe.... it

    August 5, 2009 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  25. The Lonely Libertarian of Liverpool NY

    And I'm accused by the DNC as a right wing extremist, when everyone sees the 800 LBS Gorilla in the room. health care reform will raise everyone's taxes. Enough said, the American citizen is over taxed and health care reform can not be done unless Congress can cut spending somewhere else to pay for it. Congress you cut spending of the 1.5 to 3 trillion dollars from the budget, and I'll support it.

    August 5, 2009 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
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