Having just watched the second presidential debate between President Obama and former Governor Romney, I want to make a quick point on Romney’s tax proposals that have not been much commented upon.
It is well known that Romney has proposed a tax plan where he would cut all individual income tax rates by 20%. It is accepted by all, including Romney, that this by itself would cut tax revenues by about $5 trillion over ten years, but that Romney then says he would also cut certain (but unspecified) tax deductions and other preferences in the tax code so as to raise back that $5 trillion and thus make the overall plan revenue neutral.
While this has been much discussed (and the impossibility of doing this without increasing taxes on the middle classes has been noted by neutral observers, including the Tax Policy Center, a group that Romney himself had praised during the Republican primaries), certain other aspects of his tax proposals have been less discussed. One, which Romney highlighted in the debate tonight, would be that he would cut to zero the income earned from dividends, interest, and long term capital gains, for all households earning up to $200,000 a year.
Note what this implies. Suppose you are someone who has $4 million in wealth. Perhaps you inherited this from someone, or struck it rich in the stock market, or won the lottery. And suppose you are earning a modest 5% on this $4 million from dividends plus interest plus long term capital gains. You would then be receiving $200,000 a year from this wealth. While perhaps not really rich, the income is good enough for you, so you do not work. Under Romney’s proposal, you would pay zero in federal taxes.
In contrast, suppose you work for a living, earning $100,000 a year (or half of what the better off individual described above earns simply from his wealth). You would pay Social Security and Medicare taxes at a rate of 15.3% on this (total, including the half that is nominally is “paid by” the employer, which all analysts, including Republican ones, agree comes out of worker wages). You would also be in the middle of the 25% tax bracket currently for federal income taxes, which would fall to 20% under Romney’s proposal to cut all rates by 20%.
Even ignoring the additional taxes you would pay under Romney’s proposal to reduce or eliminate certain (but unspecified) tax deductions and tax preferences, the individual earning $100,000 a year would pay taxes at a marginal rate of 35.3% ( = 15.3% + 20%). But the wealthy individual, with $4 million in wealth making $200,000 a year would pay absolutely zero.
How can this be considered fair?