Editorial do WSJ
President Obama unveiled part two of his American Jobs Act on Monday, and it turns out to be another permanent increase in taxes to pay for more spending and another temporary tax cut. No surprise there. What might surprise Americans, however, is how the President is setting up the U.S. economy for one of the biggest tax increases in history in 2013.
Mr. Obama said last week that he wants $240 billion in new tax incentives for workers and small business, but the catch is that all of these tax breaks would expire at the end of next year. To pay for all this, White House budget director Jack Lew also proposed $467 billion in new taxes that would begin a mere 16 months from now. The tax list includes limiting deductions for those earning more than $200,000 ($250,000 for couples), limiting tax breaks for oil and gas companies, and a tax increase on carried interest earned by private equity firms. These tax increases would not be temporary.
What this means is that millions of small-business owners had better enjoy the next 16 months, because come January 2013 they are going to get hit with a giant tax bill. Let's call the expensive roll:
• First comes the new tax hikes that Mr. Obama proposed on Monday. Capping itemized deductions and exemptions for the rich would take $405 billion from the private economy for 10 years starting in 2013. Taxing carried interest would raise $18 billion, and repealing tax incentives for oil and gas production would get $41 billion.
• These increases would coincide with the expiration of the tax credits, 100% expensing provisions and payroll tax breaks in Mr. Obama's new jobs program. This would mean a tax hit of $240 billion on small business and workers. That's the downside of temporary tax breaks and other job-creation gimmicks: The incentives quickly vanish, and perhaps so do the jobs.
So even if the White House is right that its latest stimulus plan will create "millions of jobs" through 2012, by this logic a $240 billion tax hike on small businesses in 2013 would cost the economy jobs. This tax wallop would arrive when even the White House says the unemployment rate will still be 7.4%.
• January 2013 is also the same month that Mr. Obama wants the
Bush-era tax rates to expire on Americans earning more than $200,000. That would raise the highest individual income tax rate to about 42%, including deduction phaseouts, from 35% today. Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation found in 2009 that $437 billion of business income would be taxed at higher tax rates under the Obama plan. And since some 4.5 million small-business owners file their annual tax returns as subchapter S firms under the individual tax code, this tax increase would often apply to the same people who Mr. Obama is targeting with his new tax credits.
The capital gains and dividend taxes would also rise to an expected 20% rate from 15% today. The 10-year hit to the private economy for all of these expiring Bush rates: about $750 billion.
• Also starting in 2013 are two of ObamaCare's biggest tax increases: an additional 0.9-percentage point levy on top of the 2.9% Medicare tax for those earning more than $200,000, and a new 2.9% surcharge on investment income, including interest income. This will further increase the top tax rate on capital gains and dividends to 23.8%, for a roughly 60% increase in investment taxes in one year.
The White House's economic logic seems to be that its new spending and temporary tax cuts will so fire up investment and hiring in the next 16 months that the economy will be growing much faster in 2013 and could thus absorb a leap off the tax cliff. But this requires its own leap of faith.
The White House also predicted a similar economic takeoff from the 2009 stimulus that was supposed to make a tax hike possible in 2011. Then last December Mr. Obama proposed new tax incentives only for 2011 because the economy was supposed to be cooking by 2012. Now it wants to extend those tax breaks so the economy will be cruising in 2013.
All of this assumes that American business owners aren't smart enough to look beyond the next few months. They can surely see the new burdens they'll face in 2013, and they aren't about to load up on new employees or take new large risks if they aren't sure what their costs will be in 16 months. They can also reasonably wonder whether Mr. Obama's tax hike will hurt the overall economy in 2013—another reason to be cautious now.
For the White House, the policy calendar is dictated above all by the political necessities of the 2012 election. Mr. Obama will take his chances on 2013 if he can cajole the private economy to create enough new jobs over the next year to win re-election, even if those jobs and growth are temporary. Business owners and workers who would prefer to prosper beyond Election Day aren't likely to share Mr. Obama's enthusiasm once they see the great tax cliff approaching. Look out below.