Supermajority Opposes Taxing<br>Employer-Provided Health Benefits
According to a new Rasmussen Poll, people are not too keen on changing around the tax treatment of employer-provided health insurance coverage:
The survey also found that just 11% favor taxing health insurance benefits provided by employers. Seventy-seven percent (77%) are opposed. On this point, Republicans, Democrats, and unaffiliated voters share broadly similar views.
All of which, of course, begs the obvious question: why would anyone want to touch this tax benefit? Why not simply cut taxes elsewhere to equalize the tax treatment of health insurance?
Ryan Ellis Talks Socialized Medicine<br> On the Glenn Beck Show
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ATR Resurrects Anti-VAT Caucus
Americans for Tax Reform has re-invigorated our Anti-VAT caucus. There are currently 45 Congressmen and 2 Senators in the caucus. ATR is inviting every elected official to join, as reported today in Roll Call.
The following letter was sent to all Congressmen and Senators urging them to join:
President Obama and Congressional Democrats have proposed a series of tax hikes on the American people to pay for government-run health care. Just after Memorial Day, they floated a plan for a value-added tax (VAT) in the Washington Post. Americans for Tax Reform maintains a list of anti-VAT Congressmen and Senators known as the “Anti-VAT Caucus.” I am writing you today to give you the opportunity to join this pro-taxpayer, Anti-VAT caucus. The Anti-VAT caucus currently has 43 Congressmen and 2 Senators, and we’re looking to grow the list quickly over the next several weeks. This caucus has no meetings to attend and no dues to pay. All you need to do is sign up. Contact Jacob Feldman at ATR (email@example.com) to do so, and he will sign you up right away.
In Europe, a small VAT was first enacted in 1967. At that time, Europe and the United States both confiscated about $.27 out of every dollar of national income. Since the introduction of the VAT in Europe, its average tax take has gone from 27% to 41%, nearly a 50% increase in just four decades. There is currently a minimum VAT requirement of 15% to be a member of the European Union, and an average VAT rate of 20%. Meanwhile, the VAT-less United States still taxes at about the same level as it did in 1967.
The experience of Europe should teach us that the imposition of a VAT, even in the pursuit of very worthy ends, is too often the precursor to bigger government. It is simply too easy for politicians to raise a tax that is hidden from citizens.
A VAT is not like a national retail sales tax. A sales tax is a line-item on a cash register receipt, and is easily known by the consumer: a very effective check on raising the sales tax rate. A VAT, on the other hand, is embedded in the final cost of the goods sold, and is hidden to the consumer. The VAT is applied at every stage of consumption, from wholesale to retail. It is passed along until it literally becomes as much an inherent and cloaked component in the price as transportation or raw materials. As a result, countries that have adopted a VAT have been sorely tempted to raise the rate over time.
That’s why I urge you to join the Anti-VAT caucus today, to let your constituents and the American people know that you think a VAT is a bad idea for America.
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VAT Taxes and Shareholders
This post originally appeared on AmericanShareholders.org
There's been a buzz going around this week that some Democrats on the Hill and even in the Obama White House are looking at a value-added tax (VAT) to pay for government-run health insurance.
What's been left out of most of the analysis has been the impact on shareholders. At first glance, there wouldn't seem to be one. VATs are embedded in the price of a good, and ultimately paid for by the retail consumer.
However, a VAT is merely a very efficient consumption tax on corporate products. As such, the tax wedge should have a similar impact to that of the corporate income tax (that CBO has said about a third of which is paid for in the form of lower returns to capital).
A VAT will raise the price of goods, and thereby hurt sales. It's a safe bet that about 30% of any new VAT tax will be paid for in the form of lower share prices and reduced dividends. That hurts everybody who has a 401(k) or an IRA, not just direct owners of companies.
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VAT Rates Rise Over Time,<br> Bloating Government Tax Coffers
|Country||VAT Rate 1976||VAT Rate 2009|
People who think that VAT would be a good idea for America ought to take a look at the above chart. In country after country, VAT rates started pretty low, but crept up, up, up (with the strange outlier of France, whose VAT actually declined a bit).
If you're interested in the full VAT rate data, it can be found at the OECD website.
Someone ought to ask President Obama why his Administration has flatly refused to rule out a VAT to pay for socialized medicine. Maybe it's the same reason that Bill Clinton had to float this idea back in 1993 to pay for Hillarycare.
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Free Market Health Reform Bill<br> Has Yet to Show Its Face
This post originally appeared on RedState
There’s been a lot of talk about the “Republican/conservative alternative” to Obamacare. Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Congressmen Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Devin Nunes (R-CA) introduced H.R. 2520, the “Patients Choice Act” last week. While the bill contains several free market ideas (an individual health tax credit, expanded HSAs, a type of Medicaid voucher, dialing back on Medicare, etc.), it also has some fatal flaws (a Massachusetts-light connector, a warmed over version of an individual mandate to purchase insurance, etc.). These fatal flaws have been supported by the Heritage Foundation and others, and many Republican Congressmen and Senators have bought into them, to their own detriment.
To repeat an analogy I’ve used several times this week to health care conservative leaders in Washington, it’s like starting every drive in a football game at the 50 yard line—the entire game will be played on one half of the field. The Patients Choice Act is a classic case of negotiating with oneself. In giving in halfway to Obamacare, it consigns the debate to the socialist side of the field.
To be clear, Americans for Tax Reform (where I serve as Tax Policy Director) has accepted the claims of the sponsors that this bill cuts taxes at least as much as it raises them. Pending a score or other good evidence that this is not true, there are no Taxpayer Protection Pledge issues to worry about. The Patients’ Choice Act is clearly better than what President Obama and Congressional Democrats have been proposing.
But is this the best we have? Is a half-good bill that probably doesn’t raise net taxes the best we can do? If so, we’re doomed to a future of Dr. Obama and Nurse Sebelius.
Fortunately, there is a better way. There is a conservative/libertarian/free market plan to fix the nation’s broken health care system, and to do it in a way that maximizes freedom, personal choice, and the doctor-patient relationship. No one’s experience of health insurance has to change unless they want it to. Do you want to be uninsured? Fine. Do you want first-dollar coverage? That’s ok, too. Do you (wisely, I think) prefer low premiums and a health savings account? That works, too.
I call this the “Yes-And Plan.” The Pain Caucus Republicans who are pushing the Patients’ Choice Act are making the same mistake as the Nixon Republican budget cutter/tax hikers of yore: pain loses at the polls. Instead, we need to put forward a bold, positive, and forward-thinking “Yes-And” plan in the tradition of Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan.
Let’s start with the principles:
- Nothing—no insurance company, no government bureaucrat, nobody—should be getting between you and the doctor of your choice.
- Nobody—least of all a government bureaucrat—should be telling you what kind of health care to have, or even to have health insurance at all
- Tax increases—even those offset by tax cuts—are the other team’s game, not ours
- Where government programs exist, they should be devolved to the states or to the people
That’s a series of principles any sunny, cheery, optimistic policy warrior should be able to get behind. So how to implement them?
- Create “mega-HSAs” (the credit here belongs to Mike Cannon at Cato, who has converted me to his “large HSA” concept). To do this, increase the contribution limit to HSAs from $3000 to $10,000 for an individual, and from $5950 to $20,000 for a family. Anyone—an employer, an individual, etc.—can contribute tax-free to HSAs. HSAs could be coupled with any type of health insurance plan, or no plan at all (i.e., self-insurance). HSA dollars could be used to pay for premiums. Whatever isn’t spent in a given year would continue to grow and build for health care needs in the future.
- Create an advanceable and refundable tax credit for the purchase of health insurance premiums. The limit would be $6000 family, and $3000 single. This would not replace the employer exclusion for health insurance, or any other current tax break. Rather, it would simply be a new “yes-and” option alongside these tax systems.
- Block grant Medicaid, Medicare, S-CHIP, and Veterans Health to the states the same way the federal government block-granted welfare in the 1990s. Welfare rolls were cut in half, and these programs could use a little of that “laboratories of democracy” magic. If this is too big of a lift, just block granting Medicaid and S-CHIP would be fine. Medicare and Vets can make do with a generous voucher program for recipients to purchase their own care.
- Allow younger workers to save their Medicare FICA tax (about 3 percent of all wages and self-employment profits) in a Medicare Savings Account which would be invested much like the federal employee “Thrift Savings Program.” Upon attaining age 65, these monies would be used to purchase a Medicare annuity for the rest of their lives.
- Put a hard cap on what trial lawyers can sue for in medical malpractice cases. The insurance that doctors and hospitals have to pay is driving up the cost of care. The trial lawyers are rent-seeking locusts who feed off of the rest of us. They are a dead-weight cost to health care. Almost as important, they are a key element of the other team.
- Allow everyone—individuals, businesses, etc.—to purchase health insurance across state lines. Allow any groups to band together across state lines to purchase health insurance. These inter-state commerce enhancements are critical if we’re to get out from under the Lilliputian benefit mandates that have been imposed at the state level by the disease groups (sidebar—don’t ever give money to any disease group marathon or other fundraiser; you’re simply funding the Left)
- Convert the stimulus payments yet to happen into “high risk pool” funding at the state level. There’s always going to be a hardcore group of chronically-ill people who won’t be able to qualify for care on their own (even under this ultra-reformed system). They aren’t large—maybe one or two percent of the population at most—but a compassionate society must provide for them. The big-hearted, optimistic, Reagan/Kemp solution to this is high risk pools. The states basically set up money that protects the insurance companies against too many losses in such cases. It’s like reinsurance for the outlier patients. The alternative is top-down regulatory solutions like “guaranteed issue” (which requires that no one can ever be turned down for coverage, resulting in system-gaming).
This “Yes-And” plan is a positive, forward-looking, and optimistic vision of what health care would look like in a better America. With Republicans out of power, it’s their job to present this vision to the American people, not to engage in almost-as-bad technocratic tinkering.
Is this plan perfect? I’m sure it isn’t. There are lots of people who know more about health care than I do (though I’m no slouch). But the tone of this is where Congressional Republicans and free market activists need to be going. Bold colors, not pale pastels, are what is appropriate in this, our time.
Next Up on the Bailout Train:<br> State and Local Government Muni Bonds
There have been no shortage of people with their hands out to the federal government over the past year. State and local governments are no exception.
Now they're back for more.
The National League of Cities recently asked the Treasury Department for an interest-free loan for $5 billion (try that at your local bank). What will these big-city mayors do with this cash? They would like to create a insurance policy for all the debt that cities have been racking up.
Let's put aside for one moment that these cities have consistently failed to reign in costs, which has led to their unfunded liabilities and exorbitant debt levels. Let's even put aside the chutzpah they have to ask for an interest free loan from taxpayers. Let's instead focus on the idea of insuring municipal bond debt.
It might surprise these mayors to learn that there is a private sector already out there, ready to back this debt. Now, they've taken a hit like any other industry in the past year, and are far more inclined to purchase high-quality debt. But rather than clean up their acts, cities with subprime debt are looking to set up a government-owned competitor to this thriving private-sector market.
The principle is simple--the government should never directly compete with private sector companies. There is a thriving private sector in municipal bond insurance. Bailout money shouldn't be used to set up artificial government competition--period.
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How Much Does It Cost Taxpayers<br> To Hire a New Federal Employee?
President Obama's budget calls for hiring "several hundred thousand" federal employees over the next four years to replace retiring Baby Boomer bureaucrats, and to expand the federal workforce.
How much will it cost taxpayers to hire each of these employees over a working career? The range is between $2.02 million for the cheapest employee (GS-1), and $11.3 million for the most expensive employee (GS-15). An employee in the middle of the federal pay scale (GS-8) will cost $4.27 million.
Let's assume the middle, GS-8 cost of $4.27 million per employee is the representative one. If Obama plans to replace or hire 250,000 federal employees, that obligates the taxpayer to the tune of over $1 trillion. This is during the same forty-year period where taxpayers will be on the hook to pay for the unfunded obligations of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (not to mention the national debt).
Candidates running for President in 2008 called for a slow attrition of the federal workforce that this Baby Boomer retirement presents as an opportunity. Unfortunately for taxpayers, Obama is squandering this once in a lifetime chance to transform the bloated federal bureaucracy into a lean and accountable civil service.
How does ATR arrive at these conclusions? Here are our assumptions:
- The federal GS-schedule is used, which can be found at OPM's website. The national average is the table consulted
- The worker is assumed to stay in the same GS-grade for a forty-year career. This makes the numbers conservative, since workers often move up in GS-grade when promoted. On the other hand, most federal workers don't work for forty years, so this seemed like a good way to balance the numbers
- The worker starts at step one of his grade level, and gets a 6 percent raise for the first nine additional years (this is a conservative accounting for the annual GS-scale COLA and the "step-up" workers get their first decade on the job)
- The worker gets a 3 percent COLA raise in years 11 through 40
- The worker's step-one salary is plussed-up by 20% to account for fringe benefits like the thrift savings plan match, the federal employee retirement system defined benefit pension, the cost of the federal employee health benefits plan, the government's share of FICA tax, and other non-salary costs of compensation
- All figures are nominal (inflation is not subtracted out)
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Obama Floats VAT Tax<br> To Pay for Socialized Medicine
• The Washington Post today reported that Democrats all over Washington and in the Obama White House are clamoring to include a value-added tax (VAT) to pay for a government-controlled national health insurance scheme. The White House has even brought in Rahm Emanuel’s brother to consult on this.
• This trial balloon is another attempt by President Obama to renege on his pledge to not raise taxes on any American making less than $250,000 per year—a promise he made repeatedly and forcefully on the campaign trail in 2008, and which he broke 16 days into his Administration
• A VAT is a version of a national sales tax. Any person who consumes pays this tax. The poor and working class (and certainly those making less than $250,000 per year) consume more as a percentage of their income the less they make. A VAT is among the most regressive tax schemes that can be imposed, and is a direct violation of Obama’s no-tax-hike promise
• VATs are a gateway drug to more government spending. When VATs first came on the scene in Western Europe in the 1960s, they were modest taxes averaging around 5 percent in rate. In the years since, the rates have climbed to an average of 20 percent (with a 15 percent minimum to get into the European Union)
• There are two reasons for this. First, politicians are always tempted to hike the rate and exclude preferred items like food, medicine, and housing. Second, because a VAT is embedded in the price of a good (unlike state sales taxes in the United States), most people are unaware of the tax or how high it is. Raising the VAT rate becomes a relatively-painless political maneuver, especially if it’s linked to higher welfare spending or VAT base carve-outs
• This VAT trial balloon betrays the mentality of the Pelosi-Reid-Obama thinking in Washington today. Raise taxes, and raise federal spending. Ultimately, they won’t be satisfied until federal taxes and federal spending are permanently at record levels. A VAT is a good way to pay for bigger government, which is why the Europeans are so enamored with them