So the fondest Washington hopes for a grand debt-limit deal have broken down over taxes. House Speaker John Boehner said late Saturday that he couldn't move ahead with a $4 trillion deal because President Obama was insisting on a $1 trillion tax increase, and the White House quickly denounced House Republicans for scuttling debt reduction and preventing "the very wealthiest and special interests from paying their fair share."
How dare Republicans not agree to break their campaign promises and raise taxes when the jobless rate is 9.2% and President Obama's economic recovery is in jeopardy?
We think Mr. Boehner is making the sensible choice. No one wants to reform the tax code more than we do, but passing a $1 trillion tax increase first on the promise of tax reform later is a political trap. If the President were really sincere about reform and a willingness to keep the top tax rate at or below 35%, he'd negotiate that at the same time he does a debt deal. Mr. Boehner will have a hard enough time getting any debt-limit increase through the House, much less one that raises tax rates.
Keep in mind that Mr. Obama has already signed the largest tax increase since 1993. While everyone focuses on the Bush tax rates that expire after 2012, other tax increases are already set to hit the economy thanks to the 2010 Affordable Care Act. As a refresher, here's a non-exhaustive list of ObamaCare's tax increases:
• Starting in 2013, the bill adds an additional 0.9% to the 2.9% Medicare tax for singles who earn more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000.
• For first time, the bill also applies Medicare's 2.9% payroll tax rate to investment income, including dividends, interest income and capital gains. Added to the 0.9% payroll surcharge, that means a 3.8-percentage point tax hike on "the rich." Oh, and these new taxes aren't indexed for inflation, so many middle-class families will soon be considered rich and pay the surcharge as their incomes rise past $250,000 due to tax-bracket creep. Remember how the Alternative Minimum Tax was supposed to apply only to a handful of millionaires?
Taxpayer cost over 10 years: $210 billion.
• Also starting in 2013 is a 2.3% excise tax on medical device manufacturers and importers. That's estimated to raise $20 billion.
• Already underway this year is the new annual fee on "branded" drug makers and importers, which will raise $27 billion.
• Another $15.2 billion will come from raising the floor on allowable medical deductions to 10% of adjusted gross income from 7.5%.
• Starting in 2018, the bill imposes a whopping 40% "excise tax" on high-cost health insurance plans. Though it only applies to two years in the 2010-2019 window of ObamaCare's original budget score, this tax would still raise $32 billion—and much more in future years.
• And don't forget a new annual fee on health insurance providers starting in 2014 and estimated to raise $60 billion. This tax, like many others on this list, will be passed along to consumers in higher health-care costs.
There are numerous other new taxes in the bill, all adding up to some $438 billion in new revenue over 10 years. But even that is understated because by 2019 the annual revenue increase is nearly $90 billion, or $900 billion in the 10 years after that. Yet Mr. Obama wants to add another $1 trillion in new taxes on top of this.
The economic ironies are also, well, rich. Mr. Obama is now pushing to reduce the payroll tax by two-percentage points for another year to boost the economy, but he's already built in a big increase in that same payroll tax for 2013. So if a payroll tax cut creates jobs this year, why doesn't a payroll tax increase destroy jobs after 2013?
Mr. Obama is also touting spending cuts he's willing to make in entitlements in return for bigger tax increases, yet the spending increases built into ObamaCare aren't even up for discussion in the debt-limit talks. The Affordable Care Act adds more than 30 million more Americans onto Medicaid's rolls, when that program is already growing by 6.5% this year. So Mr. Obama is willing to cut current entitlements on grounds that they are unaffordable, but he's taken what may be the most expensive entitlement off the table.
We think this was the President's spend-and-tax plan from the very first. Run up spending and debt in the name of stimulus and health-care reform, then count on Wall Street bond holders and the political establishment to browbeat Republicans into paying for it all. He apparently didn't figure on the rise of the tea party, or 1.9% GDP growth and 9.2% unemployment two years after the recession ended.
Last November Republicans won the House and landslide gains in many states in large part because of the deep unpopularity of the stimulus and ObamaCare. Mr. Boehner has a mandate for spending cuts and repealing the Affordable Care Act. If Republicans instead agree to raise taxes in return for future spending cuts that may or may not happen, they will simply be the tax collectors for Mr. Obama's much expanded entitlement society.