Thursday, January 3, 2013

Kicking The Can Down The Cliff

Under watchful regard of a nation
In Twenty-Thirteen celebration,
Congressional members
Took leave of December
By rigging the rules of taxation.

With many a jubilant *clink*,
The deficit promised to shrink,
But much is depending
On questions of spending,
And soon we'll be back at the brink.

The prospects are less than appealing
For the next round of Washington dealing,
Especially if
There's a new Fiscal Cliff
When Treasury hits the Debt Ceiling.

As everyone knows, the US Congress passed an emergency measure on New Year's Day to avert the worst of the automatic tax hikes that were to take effect under the "Fiscal Cliff" provisions that it enacted after last year's debt ceiling fight. For those who want to know what the latest tax deal means for them personally, Matthew O'Brien has a couple of helpful charts in The Atlantic. The bottom line is that, while everyone's tax rates and payments are now less than they would have been under the full Fiscal Cliff, most Americans will see another 1.5% of their income going to taxes, and the well-to-do will feel 3-8% poorer. Ironically, some of the most fortunate taxpayers are those whose income is between $200-500 thousand. They have mostly avoided marginal tax rate increases, which apply to income above $400,000 ($450,000 for joint filers) and will not pay more in alternative minimum tax, which has been permanently "patched".

Those who may have worried that a bipartisan agreement on taxation signals a change in the ways of Washington will be reassured to know that the deal has preserved an impressive array of obscure tax breaks for special interests, as the New York Times reports.

However... the thornier questions of cutting expenditurses (or at least, reducing their long-term growth) have been pushed off by a month, as has the always-explosive question of raising the Federal debt ceiling. Another high-stakes political standoff is therefore guaranteed, which means that the celebrated tax deal is actually not much to celebrate.

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