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Ryan Ellis

Top Seven Reasons the IRS Shouldn't Do Your Taxes for You

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Posted by Ryan Ellis on Wednesday, April 16th, 2014, 3:25 PM PERMALINK


There has been the usual tax day-related glut of articles from liberal publications urging a federal takeover of the tax preparation business.  As always, the ultra-left wing blog Pro Publica took the lead, followed predictably by outlets such as Slate, Vox, and Tax Analystsas well as respectable news outlets like Bloomberg View and Yahoo!.

The basic argument is always the same: the IRS has all this information on you anyway, so wouldn't it just be easier and better if they simply prepared your taxes for you?  Wouldn't that be better than having to pay some rent-seeking middleman?  This flawed line of thinking fools many a reporter this time of year, but it's refuted pretty easily once you scratch beneath the surface. 

Below are the top seven reasons the IRS should not prepare your taxes for you:

1. There already is a "Free File" program that most taxpayers are eligible for.  This is the dirty little secret that the wonky Left doesn't want you to know.  Since 2003, the IRS has partnered with the tax preparation industry to give away tax prep software--for free--to that large bulk of Americans with straightforward tax returns.  This "Free File Alliance" can be used for over 100 million tax returns every year, should people want to use it.  In its history, it's been used over 40 million times, with a 98% customer satisfaction rate. In fact, 23 states have created their own Free File programs. As an indication of the program's success, use of the IRS Free File program is up 11% this tax season over last year according to IRS numbers. 

If the liberals pushing the IRS socialized tax prep idea were actually interested in a public policy solution, one which is already up and running and requires no new laws or regulations to implement, they would be recommending Free File every year.  The fact that they don't should tell you a lot about what their true motives are (i.e., having the IRS be a tax preparer who also has the stick of tax collection).

2. The IRS commissioner has said the agency can't do it--twice.  On two occasions just this year, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has publicly stated that the IRS isn't interested in preparing people's taxes, because it can't: 

On April 26, 2014, he told a Congressional committee, "We're not doing anything with that. It would take a long time to be able to do that."

Just today in Politico, he is quoted as saying, "We don’t have any plan to do that. (He laughed) We’re challenged enough with the things we have to do now, so there’s no work going on here at the IRS in that direction."

That's pretty good evidence that the IRS preparing your taxes is not only not possible--it's probably not a very good idea.

3. The biggest tax prep software company supports a radically-simplified tax system.  The underlying subtext of all these stories is that the tax preparation industry, and DIY software giant Intuit in particular, has been keeping down the obviously good idea for the IRS to prepare most people's taxes for them.  The reason, of course, is that the Intuits of the world want a complicated tax system so people have to keep buying their product every year.

Except that's not true.  Back in February, Intuit endorsed House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp's (R-Mich.) tax reform plan, saying, "Intuit is committed, like the chairman, to see the tax code simplified, reducing the burden on American taxpayers and small businesses.  This is a national policy imperative and Intuit looks forward to working with him and other policymakers of both parties across the Congress as the tax reform process moves forward."

The Camp plan, incidentally, would result in a system where 95 percent of families would be able to claim the standard deduction (up from about 70 percent today).  Presumably, a similar percentage would be eligible for Free File.

This should put to lie the sub-textual assumption that the tax preparation industry is against IRS tax preparation because they have an interest in a complicated tax code.  If these tired annual hobby horse articles were honest, they would acknowledge this and stop casting aspersions on companies that just aren't true.

If you want a simplified tax system, the solution is not the IRS preparing your tax return--the solution is for Congress to reform the tax code.

4. Have you noticed how much the IRS has begun to resemble the tax arm of a banana republic?  Lois Lerner's contempt of Congress citation.  Taxpayer-funded IRS conventions featuring Star Trek videos.  Agency targeting of non-profit applications that have "Tea Party" in the name.  Agency regulations of political speech by conservative non-profits.  

It's not as if the IRS had a lot of goodwill to build off of before this year's filing season.  But the last year has arguably been the worst one in the history of the agency.  Public confidence in the IRS took several devastating body-blows in the past year.

On what planet does it make sense for an agency that is daily redefining "politicized abuse of power" to also take over tax preparation for most of the country?  And against the explicit wishes and counsel of the guy who runs the place?

5. From the people who brought you healthcare.gov...The old joke used to be that, "if you like the Post Office, you'll love government-run healthcare."  The spectacular failure of healthcare.gov has proven that quip a bit of an understatement.

Combine this with just the latest bureaucratic overreach/unintended consequence/abuse of individual rights: the Social Security Administration trying to collect generations-old debts from the descendants of the long-dead targets of collection.  

And these folks think it's a good idea to build off this success and have the IRS prepare taxes for tens of millions of families?  No thanks.

6. Speaking of Obamacare, the IRS will soon be a partner in your healthcare.  Many people don't realize that the IRS is the agency with the second-biggest role in implementing Obamacare.  That's not only a very scary intrusion to people's lives (begging the question as to why it would also be a good idea to make them the nation's tax preparer, too)--it also costs money.

Every year for the past several years, the Obama Administration has asked Congress for a few billion dollars for the IRS to implement Obamacare.  That's not surprising, since the GAO reports that there are 47 Obamacare items on the IRS to-do list.  Congress, quite understandably given the Republican opposition to Obamacare and the IRS' squandering of its existing resources, has instead chosen to freeze the IRS budget at less than $12 billion annually. It's likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

The thing is, Obamacare IS going to get implemented by the IRS.  It's the number one public policy goal of the Obama Administration.  With Obamacare resources crowding out everything else, there simply isn't any money left over to do a brand new system of IRS tax preparation, even it was a good idea (which it's not).  And have you heard of Free File?

7. The IRS has sent you a friend request.  Marketplace this week reported that the IRS has begun to do aggressive data mining of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others.  The goal is for them to find out as much information about taxpayers as possible to help with audits.  So, that's great.

People with good memories might remember a similar story from last year, when the IRS wanted to read all your email messages.

Needless to say, the IRS is not looking for extra tax deductions for you when they're doing this. Their goal is to increase tax revenue collections for the Treasury, plain and simple.

The bottom line.  These tired, annual articles from white collar lefty pseudo-academics living in the Beltway all ignore the really big story here: namely, that it's a giant conflict of interest for the IRS to determine your tax liability, and then to be able to seize your wages and assets in order to collect that tax liability.  To ignore that is to be criminally-naive about the way the IRS goes about its business.  It betrays either a lack of knowledge of how the tax system actually works, or it's a giant con job by people whose common cause with the IRS is growing the size of government.

Demonizing the tax prep industry doesn't change any of the arguments from above.  It does, however, provide a thin shield of self-righteousness for what is otherwise a fool's errand.

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101 Years of the Federal Income Tax


Posted by Ryan Ellis on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014, 12:45 PM PERMALINK


The 101-year history of the federal income tax has been marked by more and more taxpayers paying higher and higher amounts of tax.

"The American income tax is perhaps the most dramatic example of how government grows at the expense of liberty," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.  "Slowly. Constantly. Inexorably."

As Americans finish yet another tax filing season, let’s take a look at how the income tax became the raw deal it is today:

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Obama has Proposed 442 Tax Hikes Since Taking Office

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Posted by Max Velthoven, John Kartch, Ryan Ellis on Monday, April 14th, 2014, 6:00 AM PERMALINK


Since taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama has formally proposed a total of 442 tax increases, according to an Americans for Tax Reform analysis of Obama administration budgets for fiscal years 2010 through 2015.

The 442 total proposed tax increases does not include the 20 tax increases Obama signed into law as part of Obamacare.

“History tells us what Obama was able to do. This list reminds us of what Obama wanted to do,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

The number of proposed tax increases per year is as follows:

-79 tax increases for FY 2010

-52 tax increases for FY 2011

-47 tax increases for FY 2012

-34 tax increases for FY 2013

-137 tax increases for FY 2014

-93 tax increases for FY 2015

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Obama budget with the lowest number of proposed tax increases was released during an election year: In February 2012, Obama released his FY 2013 budget, with “only” 34 proposed tax increases. Once safely re-elected, Obama came back with a vengeance, proposing 137 tax increases, a personal record high for the 44th President.

In addition to the 442 tax increases in his annual budget proposals, the 20 signed into law as part of Obamacare, and the massive tobacco tax hike signed into law on the sixteenth day of his presidency, Obama has made it clear he is open to other broad-based tax increases.

During an interview with Men’s Health in 2009, when asked about the idea of national tax on soda and sugary drinks, the President said, "I actually think it's an idea that we should be exploring."

During an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood in 2010, Obama said a European-style Value-Added-Tax was something that would be novel for the United States.”

Obama’s statement was consistent with a pattern of remarks made by Obama White House officials refusing to rule out a VAT.

“Presidents are judged by history based on what they did in power. But presidents can only enact laws when the Congress agrees,” said Norquist. "Thus a record forged by such compromise tells you what a president -- limited by congress -- did rather than what he wanted to do.”

The full list of proposed Obama tax increases can be found here. 

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Conservatives Unite Behind Senator Ron Johnson's Obamacare Lawsuit

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Posted by Ryan Ellis on Thursday, April 10th, 2014, 3:09 PM PERMALINK


Nearly two-dozen conservative organizations today sent a letter to all U.S. Senators urging them to sign onto an amicus brief.  The brief, related to a pending lawsuit by Senator Ron Johnson (R., Wisc.) against the Office of Personnel Management, calls for Obamacare to be enforced as written.

The case in question involves the illegal rule by OPM which extends Obamacare subsidies and other matters to Congressional elected officials and staff in direct contravention of the Obamacare law as written.

The full text of the letter can be found here.  Letter text and signers below:
 

On behalf of the citizen activists we represent, we urge you to add your name to an amicus brief in the case of Johnson v. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  This amicus brief is open only to Members of Congress and United States Senators.  
 
The case in question involves the illegal rule by OPM which extends Obamacare subsidies and other matters to Congressional elected officials and staff in direct contravention of the Obamacare law as written.
 
The amicus brief makes two main points:
 
The unlawful enhancement of Congressional health benefits at issue here reflects a growing trend of executive lawlessness.  It’s the duty of the President to make sure that laws are faithfully-executed.  When it comes to Obamacare, there have been many breaches of this principle.  The Galen Institute has estimated that there have—to date—been no fewer than 21 executive fiat changes to Obamacare.  It’s Congress’ job to write the laws, and it’s the President’s job to enforce them as written.  If the law isn’t working, it’s the prerogative of Congress—not the President—to change the law.
 
Lawmakers and their staff have standing to challenge the illegal distortion of their health benefits.  The OPM rule harms Congressional Members and staff because it alters the health benefits the law calls for them to have.  This denies them equal treatment under the law, since staff and Members receive OPM subsidies that other Americans cannot get.  Even worse, the impossible situation this creates for staff in particular forces them (very understandably) to be complicit in a conspiracy to violate the law as written.  
 
It’s time that the executive overreaches seen under this Administration be held in check by the courts.  Signing onto Senator Ron Johnson’s amicus brief is one way you can fight back.  We urge you to do so.
 

Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform
Michael A. Needham, Heritage Action for America
David Christensen, Family Research Council
Grace-Marie Turner, Galen Institute
Heather Higgins, Independent Women’s’ Voice
George Landrith, Frontiers of Freedom
David Williams, Taxpayers Protection Alliance
Colin Hanna, Let Freedom Ring
Jim Martin, 60 Plus Association
Phil Kerpen, American Commitment
Timothy Lee, Center for Individual Freedom
Naomi Lopez-Bauman, Illinois Policy Institute
Amy Ridenour, National Center for Public Policy Research
Sabrina Schaeffer, Independent Women’s Forum
Brian Baker, Ending Spending
Gregory T. Angelo, Log Cabin Republicans
Jacob Huebert, Liberty Justice Center
Ken Hoagland, Restore America’s Voice Foundation

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Ben Sasse Health Reform Plan Free of Tax Hikes

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Posted by Ryan Ellis on Wednesday, April 9th, 2014, 6:06 PM PERMALINK


The Nebraska Senate race features a spirited Republican primary with good news for taxpayers—all the major candidates have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, so primary voters won’t have to worry about whether they are voting for a tax hiker on May 13th.

We were alerted recently that one of these candidates, Ben Sasse, might have proposed a net tax increase in his health care reform plan.  We’ve had a chance to review the plan, and we can assure voters that this isn’t the case.  Here’s what the plan would do on taxes:
 

Create a new personal tax deduction for the purchase of health insurance (with all existing tax benefits for health insurance preserved).

Encourage greater portability of health insurance plans, removing any tax code impediments to this.

Expand health savings accounts (HSAs) by increasing the contribution limit, broadening the scope of what HSAs can pay for, and increasing the number of Americans eligible to open an HSA


That’s pure tax relief, plain and simple.  There’s not a tax increase anywhere in there.

Some have argued that another proposal in the plan—to means-test Medicare for affluent seniors—is a tax increase.  Hogwash.  That’s a spending cut.  Taxes are when the government takes income away from people.  This proposal simply reduces the benefits government is giving to people who can afford to pay their own way.  If that’s a tax increase, so is cutting the federal budget.  It’s absurd.

There are plenty of meaningful differences among the major candidates in the Nebraska Senate GOP primary.  Whether Ben Sasse is raising taxes via his health care plan is not one of them.

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To Support Women, Repeal Obamacare


Posted by Mattie Duppler, Ryan Ellis on Tuesday, April 8th, 2014, 12:52 PM PERMALINK


Democrats are observing Equal Pay Day today by promoting new regulations that make labor more expensive and less flexible, restricting employment opportunities for women. Proponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act ignore the fact that actions taken by Washington exacerbate economic inequality - in fact, Obamacare includes 20 new or higher taxes, a handful of which hit women particularly hard.

1. Obamacare Individual Mandate Non-Compliance Tax:  Starting this year, anyone not buying “qualifying” health insurance – as defined by President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services – must pay an income surtax to the IRS. Millions of women have already lost their health plans because they were not "qualified" under Obamacare. While the Obama Administration has exempted its Big Business friends from this tax, the individual mandate tax grows for individuals and families each year it is in effect, amounting to at least 2.5 percent of adjusted gross income by 2016.

2. Obamacare Flexible Spending Account Tax:  The 30 - 35 million Americans who use a pre-tax Flexible Spending Account (FSA) at work to pay for their family’s basic medical needs face a new Obamacare cap of $2,500. Before Obamacare, the accounts were unlimited under federal law. This is a very visible tax hike for women, who are most likely to be the primary health care decision makers in their families. This is especially true for mothers of special needs children. Nationwide there are several million families who use FSAs to pay for special needs education, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. This Obamacare tax provision will limit the options available to these families. 

3. Obamacare High Medical Bills Tax: Before Obamacare, Americans facing high medical expenses were allowed a deduction to the extent that those expenses exceeded 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI).  Obamacare now imposes a threshold of 10 percent of AGI.  Therefore, Obamacare not only makes it more difficult to claim this deduction, it widens the net of taxable income.

4. Medicine Cabinet Tax. Since January of 2011, Americans have not been able to purchase over-the-counter medicines from their Flexible Spending Accounts or Health Savings Accounts. Women often rely on over-the-counter medicines to get themselves and their families through the colds, fevers, and aches and pains of daily family life. To raise taxes on busy Moms makes absolutely no sense.

5. Obamacare 10 Percent Excise Tax on Indoor Tanning: This Obamacare tax increase has the distinction of being the first to go into effect (July 2010). This petty, burdensome, nanny-state tax affects both the business owner and the consumer  Industry estimates from the Indoor Tanning Association show that 30 million Americans visit an indoor tanning facility in a given year, and over 50 percent of salon owners are women.  There is no exception granted for those making less than $250,000 meaning it is yet another tax that violates Obama’s “firm pledge” not to raise “any form” of tax on Americans making less than this amount.

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Joint Letter in Support of H.R. 1874, the "Pro-Growth Budgeting Act"

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Posted by Ryan Ellis on Thursday, April 3rd, 2014, 2:58 PM PERMALINK


ATR and nearly two-dozen other free market coalition partners today sent a joint letter of support to the U.S. House of Representatives.  We stand in united support behind H.R. 1874, the "Pro-Growth Budgeting Act of 2013."  The House is scheduled to consider this legislation on Friday.  The full text of the letter can be found here.  Below is the text and the signers:
 

On behalf of the taxpayers, citizen activists, and ordinary Americans we represent, we urge you to support and vote for H.R. 1874, the “Pro-Growth Budgeting Act of 2013.”  The House of Representatives will vote this week on H.R. 1874, and we urge all Members to vote “aye.”
 
H.R. 1874 would require the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to prepare a dynamic budgetary analysis of each major-sized bill or resolution considered by Congress.  This dynamic analysis, to be written alongside the conventional “static” budget score, would take into account macroeconomic changes resulting from the legislation.  In addition, the dynamic analysis would show budgetary changes over a 30-year window, as opposed to the static score’s 10-year window.
 
H.R. 1874 requires the dynamic analysis to describe the potential economic impact of the bill or resolution on major economic variables, including real gross domestic product (GDP), business investment, the capital stock, employment, interest rates, and labor supply.  Also to be accounted for would be the potential fiscal effects of the measure, including any estimates of revenue increases or decreases resulting from changes in GDP.  

Finally, H.R. 1874 requires the dynamic analysis (or a technical appendix to it) to specify the economic and econometric models used, sources of data, relevant data transformations, as well as any explanation necessary to make the models comprehensible to academic and public policy analysts.
 
It’s high time for CBO to begin to use dynamic analysis on a more consistent basis.  It’s absurd to continue to pretend that large fiscal bills have no changes to macroeconomic factors, which in turn influence the spending and tax effects of the legislation itself.  If Members want to willfully ignore these realities, they can always retreat to the incomplete analysis found in the static score.  But Congressmen should have an informed opinion when they vote.  The color provided by a dynamic analysis is an essential component of that informed opinion.

 

Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform
Mike Needham, Heritage Action for America
Brandon Arnold, National Taxpayers Union
William Gardner, Americans for Prosperity
Larry Hart, American Conservative Union
Tom Schatz, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste
Jim Martin, 60 Plus Association
David Williams, Taxpayers Protection Alliance
Gregory T. Angelo, Log Cabin Republicans
Tim Lee, Center for Individual Freedom
Andrew Moylan, R Street
Wayne Crews, Competitive Enterprise Institute
Phil Kerpen, American Commitment
Palmer Schoening, Family Business Coalition
Chuck Muth, Citizens Outreach
Mario Lopez, Hispanic Leadership Fund
Jeff Kropf, Oregon Taxpayers Coalition
Stephen DeMaura, Americans for Job Security
Roseann Siderits, COAST 

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The Secret Plan to Kill Free Trade


Posted by Ryan Ellis on Thursday, March 27th, 2014, 2:40 PM PERMALINK


Suwalki Conference. Polish delegates at left, ...

Suwalki Conference. Polish delegates at left, Lithuanian at right (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the past hundred or so years, there’s been a global movement toward free trade.  A simple search on Wikipedia shows dozens and dozens of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements that nations have entered into since the Second World War.  The trend is clear–we’re moving toward a world without taxes on imports; that is, a world without tariffs.  There’s an emerging threat to this progress, though, and it’s showing up in a very unlikely place.

Click here to read more.

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ATR Supports H.R. 4158, SIGMA Act of 2014

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Posted by Ryan Ellis on Monday, March 10th, 2014, 11:41 AM PERMALINK


Americans for Tax Reform is proud to support H.R. 4158, the "Special Inspector General for Monitoring the ACA (SIGMA) Act of 2014," sponsored by Congressman Pete Roskam (R-Ill.)

Obamacare is a giant law which spans many government agencies.  Congressional oversight has been stymied by the administration, and taxpayers frankly "don't know what they don't know" about how the government is implementing President Obama's healthcare law.  What has leaked out has been a tale of woe involving broken websites, overpaid contractors, and late Friday afternoon bureaucrat resignations.

H.R. 4158 would create an inspector general that could knock on doors across the government, from Kathleen Sebelius' Department of Health and Human Services, to the Treasury Department, the Social Security Administration, the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, the Veterans' Administration, the Department of Labor, and even the Peace Corps.  No stone would be left unturned.  Reports would start flowing to Congress and taxpayers on a quarterly basis.

This inspector general office would follow in the footsteps of other recent predecessors for Iraq reconstruction, Afghanistan reconstruction, and the TARP bailout.  These inspectors general have recovered billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers, and resulted in prosecutions of hundreds of bad actors.

It's about time taxpayers got to the bottom of how Obamacare is being implemented.  H.R. 4158 is a necessary step to get there.

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Updated: ATR's Comprehensive Guide to the Camp Tax Reform Draft


Posted by Ryan Ellis on Wednesday, February 26th, 2014, 7:59 PM PERMALINK


Update: an earlier version of this document did not take into account the outlay effects of the Camp draft on its net revenue score. The Camp draft is a net tax cut and a net spending cut.
 
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) today released his anticipated comprehensive tax reform discussion draft. Chairman Camp and his staff are to be commended for putting pen to paper to produce a detailed tax reform plan.
 
However, the Camp draft would severely hamstring capital investment, unnecessarily damaging potential economic growth over the long run.
 
The Camp draft has many commendable elements, but other features are less compatible with a pro-growth model.  Many of the latter issues could be addressed (and no doubt would have been) had Camp not been constrained by arbitrary and inaccurate Beltway tax scoring conventions.
 
What the Camp Draft Gets Right:
 
-Dynamic growth effects make the country wealthier.  The Joint Committee on Taxation’s (JCT) first-ever “dynamic score” (that is, incorporating the macroeconomic effect of tax policy changes) shows that the Camp draft raises household income, increases labor force participation, grows private sector employment, and boosts real economic growth.
 
-Personal income tax top rate cut from 39.6 percent to 35 percent.  The plan replaces our current seven-bracket personal income tax structure with a simplified three-bracket model at lower rates across the board.
 
-Virtually all taxpayers could fill out a simple, standard deduction tax form.  The percentage of taxpayers who don’t have to record itemized deductions would rise from 70 percent today to 95 percent under the Camp draft.  As a result of this and other simplifications, the Camp draft claims a reduction in the size of the tax code by fully one-quarter.
 
-Corporate income tax rate cut from 35 percent to 25 percent.  This is badly needed, as the United States has the highest corporate income tax rate in the developed world.  It moves the U.S. rate closer to the developed nation average, and closer to the rates imposed by our most important trading partners.
 
-AMT repealed.  Both the personal and corporate “alternative minimum taxes” (AMT) are repealed.  Thus, it is finally ended for millions of families the “heads the government wins, tails the taxpayer loses” parallel tax system originally imposed on a few hundred wealthy Americans.
 
-Moves U.S. system closer to territoriality.  The U.S. is virtually the only nation in the developed world which seeks to tax the income her taxpayers earn overseas.  This potential double-taxation puts U.S. employers at a global competitive disadvantage.  The Camp draft addresses this by shielding 95 percent of active trade or business income earned abroad from IRS taxation.
 
-Permanent small business expensing.  Small and medium-sized firms will be able to immediately deduct (“expense”) business assets (up to $250,000) purchased throughout the year.  The alternative is to force them to slowly-deduct (“depreciate”) these costs over several to many years.  ATR believes that all business expenses should be deducted in the year they are incurred.
 
-No more free rides for bloated state governments.  For years, state governments have hidden their costs of government from their taxpayers.  The federal tax code has allowed state and local income taxes to be deducted, and the interest on state and local debt to be excluded from income, making state government seem cheaper than it really is.  The Camp draft ends the deduction for state and local income tax, and denies the exclusion for municipal bond interest to top-bracket taxpayers.
 
-No IRS preparation of tax returns.  The Camp draft endorses the IRS “Free File” program which has benefited millions of taxpayers, and prevents a government takeover of tax preparation (which would give the IRS power to both calculate and assess taxes).
 
-Two Obamacare taxes are repealed.  Both the “medical device tax” (a gross receipts tax on makers of medical devices like pacemakers and wheelchairs) and the “medicine cabinet tax” (prevents over-the-counter medicines from receiving equal tax treatment) are repealed.
 
Where the Camp Draft Falls Short:
 
-The Camp draft nets out to a small tax increase in the scoring window.  According to the JCT, the Camp draft is a net tax increase of $3 billion over the first decade of implementation.  As the Camp draft is translated to “real bullets” legislation, taxpayers should expect this to be smoothed out to no higher than revenue-neutral.
 
-Capital gains and dividends tax rate rises.  Today, the top marginal income tax rate on capital gains and dividends is 23.8 percent.  Under the Camp draft, this rises to 24.8 percent.
 
-Camp draft moves the wrong way on business investment.  The Camp draft lengthens depreciation lives for business assets, moving in precisely the opposite direction of where tax reform should go.  All business inputs should be expensed the year they are incurred.  Under the Camp draft, a desk (for example) would have to be depreciated over twelve years as opposed to the current seven, and using a straight-line recovery instead of an accelerated one.  For residential real estate property, it’s even worse.  The Camp draft requires this property to be depreciated over 40 years, as opposed to today’s 27.5 years.
In addition, “bonus” depreciation and other special accelerated depreciation rules are repealed.
 
Intangible property also faces a lengthened recovery period, from 15 years today to 20 years in the Camp draft.  These should also be expensed the first year like any other business purchase.

To its credit, the Camp draft does allow the basis of depreciable property to be indexed to inflation.
 
-Business capital in the economy shrinks under the Camp draft.  As a result of tax increases on capital gains and dividends, and tax increases on business investment, the JCT dynamic score assumes that business capital will shrink.  This is highly problematic, since capital is the seed corn of future economic growth.  It’s true that labor force and consumption growth is big enough to overwhelm this effect at least in the shorter run, but no tax reform plan should be increasing the taxation of capital.  This was a big mistake from the 1986 Tax Reform Act, and it’s a big mistake here.
 
-Corporations get better tax rates than other companies.  The tax code should not pick winners and losers, especially when it comes to something like business entity formation choices.  Yet the Camp draft does precisely that.  Whereas corporations get a 25 percent rate, successful partnerships and S-corporations will face a 35 percent top rate (plus a 3.8 percentage point Obamacare surtax in most cases).  Additionally, manufacturers get a more favorable tax rate than other industries.
 
-“Chained CPI” means that households will face greater “bracket creep.”  The Camp draft imposes “chained CPI” (a slower growth metric for inflation) on the tax brackets and other tax provisions.  Over time, this will result in taxpayers moving into higher brackets faster than they would under regular inflation calculations.
 
-“Carried interest” capital gains tax hike.  Some investment partnerships generate capital gains which are paid to managing partners.  The Camp draft seeks to substantially tax this income not as the capital gains it actually is, but as ordinary income.  That’s a rate hike from 24.8 percent to 38.8 percent in a post-reform world.
 
-Business owners will pay taxes on “phantom income.”  One provision in the Camp draft which is very troubling is to move many companies from a “cash basis” of accounting to an “accrual basis” of accounting.  Oversimplified, this means that these companies will no longer pay taxes on income they receive in a tax year.  Rather, they will pay taxes on income they have billed out (but may not have yet actually received).  In many cases, the money might not be received for years, but the taxes are due in the present.  This new rule impacts white-collar partnerships and S-corporations who have gross receipts of at least $10 million.
 
-Energy and other companies will face taxes on phantom “LIFO” income.  Companies which have valued their inventories over the years using a “last-in, first-out” (LIFO) convention will have to pay taxes on the cumulative difference between LIFO and FIFO (“first-in, first-out”) inventory accounting.  This isn’t real income—it’s akin to asking taxpayers to pay back the mortgage interest deduction they’ve claimed on a home they’ve owned for many years.
 
-New “bank tax” on firms will be passed along to customers.  The Camp draft creates a new “bank tax” on financial services firms with more than $500 billion in assets.  The tax is an asset tax of 0.035 percent of financial assets at the firm.  It’s a basic principle of taxation that “companies don’t pay taxes—people do.”  That’s the case here.  This new bank tax will come out in the wash in higher ATM fees, fatter commissions for stock brokers, and more nickel and diming for average investors.
 
 

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