Ryan Ellis

ATR Supports "Right to Refuse" Constitutional Amendment


Posted by Ryan Ellis on Friday, February 22nd, 2013, 4:30 PM PERMALINK


ATR today sent the following letter to Cong. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.):

On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform, I am pleased to support H. J. Res. 28, your Constitutional amendment to prevent Congress from enacting any future “Obamacare mandate” style tax penalties. 

When the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in
June 2012, the Court stated that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate was a valid exercise of the congressional taxing power cited in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that while “the Federal Government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance… [it] does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance. Section 5000A [the individual mandate] is therefore constitutional, because it can reasonably be read as a tax.”

If passed, your “Right to Refuse” Amendment would exempt individuals and businesses that opt not to purchase insurance from facing thousands in mandate taxes set to take place in 2014.   It would also permanently prevent Congress from passing future legislation forcing Americans to choose between purchase of goods and services or tax penalties.     

There are 20 new or higher taxes in Obamacare, none worse than the penalty tax provisions.  Your amendment will prevent any further damage to taxpayers’ freedoms.

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The Real Story of the Fiscal Cliff and Its Aftermath


Posted by Ryan Ellis on Thursday, February 21st, 2013, 4:30 PM PERMALINK


The fiscal cliff was one of the largest tax hikes in American history.  The tax components actually came from four different clusters of expiring tax provisions.  They were:

The "Bush tax cuts."  The 2001 and 2003 tax relief, extended many times by Congress and most recently by a unified Democrat government in 2010, expired.  This meant that tax rates rose from an old range of 10 to 35 percent up to a new range of 15 to 39.6 percent.  Additionally, the capital gains rate rose from 15 to 20 percent, the dividends tax rose from 15 to 39.6 percent, and the death tax rose from 35 to 55 percent.  A host of other tax increases also kicked in, most notably a halving of the child tax credit to $500 and a return of the marriage penalty for all taxpayers.

The end of the business and personal "extenders."  There were several dozen business and personal tax provisions which expired for good with the fiscal cliff.  Most notable here was the expiration of the AMT "patch" which prevented the AMT from growing from 4 million to 31 million families overnight.  Other notable highlights were the ethanol tax credit and small business expensing of assets.

The end of the payroll tax "holiday."  In 2011 and 2012, Congress provided for a temporary 2 percentage point reduction in the FICA tax.  For most workers, this meant that the fiscal cliff raised their FICA tax portion from 5.65 percent of wages to 7.65 percent of wages.

The inauguration of most of the Obamacare tax hikes.  There were 20 new or higher taxes in Obamacare.  Most of them went into effect with the fiscal cliff.  These included a new 3.8 percent "surtax" on investment income, a hike in the Medicare payroll tax rate, and a new tax on medical device manufacturers. 

All told, these tax hikes totaled nearly $500 billion in 2013 alone.  The most important thing to know about these tax hikes is that they all, in fact, happened.  They happened automatically at midnight on New Year's Eve/New Year's Day.  No one in Congress voted for this to happen, nor did any President sign a tax hike into law.  Temporary law was simply allowed to expire.

This happened despite the efforts of House and Senate Republicans to vote on bills to temporarily or permanently defer this fiscal cliff tax hike nightmare.  At the insistence of President Obama and Harry Reid, the nightmare happened anyway.

When these tax increases went into effect, a new and permanent revenue baseline was established.  Under this new normal, tax revenues would come in at about 21 percent of economic output, far higher than the historical average of 18 percent.  Per year, taxes would be about $500 billion higher than they would have been if the fiscal cliff had been avoided.

Because this tax increase was broadly-felt down the income scale, Congress felt the need to cut taxes from this new, higher, permanent, post-cliff level.  This tax cut was in the form of H.R. 8, the "American Taxpayer Relief Act." 

This bill cut taxes from this "new normal" by $3.7 trillion over 10 years.  The Bush tax cut expiration was rolled back for all taxpayers making less than $400,000 per year.  Most of the business and personal extenders were extended, and the AMT patch was made permanent.  Nothing was done about the Obamacare taxes or the end of the payroll tax rebate.  The death tax was permanently set at a new 40 percent rate with a $10.3 million exemption for married couples.  A new phaseout of itemized deductions and personal exemptions was put in place for those making more than $200,000 per year.

Some have said that Congressmen voting for H.R. 8 were voting for a tax increase, as if a vote for H.R. 8 was somehow an endorsement of the fiscal cliff tax hikes which happened hours earlier.  That is simply untrue.  House and Senate Republicans voting for H.R. 8 made it clear that their strong preference was for the fiscal cliff tax hikes to never have happened, but they did.  Given that new reality, their vote to cut taxes can hardly be called a bad thing.

That's not to say that H.R. 8 was an ideal bill--far from it.  It failed to fully roll back the fiscal cliff tax hikes which had already happened, and resulted in a tax policy regime worse on net than the one which preceded the fiscal cliff.  However, that does not make H.R. 8 something it is not.  H.R. 8 is a tax cut--a large one.  Those voting for it cannot be smeared as tax hikers when the facts simply don't support that analysis.

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ATR Supports Hatch Ideas for Medicare, Medicaid Reform


Posted by Ryan Ellis on Thursday, February 14th, 2013, 4:23 PM PERMALINK


ATR sent the following letter today to Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah):

On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform, I am pleased to support your five common-sense reforms to the Medicare and Medicaid systems.  They represent a serious down payment on reform, and are the first steps Congress should take in a broader health entitlement overhaul.  Your reforms include:

Allowing the Medicare eligibility age to grow with life expectancy.  Under current law, the eligibility age for Medicare enrollment is 65.  Your proposal would permit this level to reflect longer life expectancy by increasing the age 2 months every year until a new age of 67 is met.  At that point, both Medicare and Social Security normal retirement ages would be aligned.  Because the change is not abrupt, it’s a fair deal for current and near-retirees who have planned their retirements around Medicare.

Putting more market forces to work in Medigap policies.  Many seniors purchase “Medigap” policies to wrap around the holes in their traditional Medicare plans.  However, most of these Medigap plans provide first-dollar coverage, which means that seniors have little incentive to be smart about their heathcare purchases.  Your plan would prohibit Medigap policies from covering initial out-of-pocket expenses for seniors when they receive care, giving seniors a motivation to ask their doctors how much medical services will cost.

Creating a simple, unified Medicare cost-sharing structure.  Most people are unaware that Medicare has a confusing hodgepodge of deductibles, coinsurance limits, and caps which make planning healthcare nearly impossible for seniors.  Your plan would create a simple system with one unified deductible, uniform coinsurance rates, and an annual catastrophic out-of-pocket cap.

Allowing for competitive bidding within Medicare.  This is an idea whose time has come.  It has a long, bi-partisan history.  Its origins can be found in the 1999 Breaux-Thomas commission, but it also has roots in the Rivlin-Domenici plan, and most recently in the Ryan-Wyden agreement.  Letting private companies compete to provide Medicare services will provide better Medicare choices for seniors at less cost than the status quo.

Putting a per-capita cap on Medicaid.  Similar to block granting, this form of defined contribution Medicaid reform has its origins in the Clinton Administration.  Spending limits would be set by beneficiary eligibility categories and adjusted for patient health condition.  Whether done per-beneficiary or per-state, it’s time for Washington to get out of the way and let the states reform Medicaid the same way they reformed welfare in the 1990s.
 

Full Letter PDF

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Top Five Tax and Spending Lies from the State of the Union


Posted by Ryan Ellis, Mattie Duppler, Chris Prandoni on Wednesday, February 13th, 2013, 11:06 AM PERMALINK


Obama Claim #1:  “[The American people] know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share.”

Reality:  According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), tax revenues to the federal government will double over the next decade, from $2.5 trillion in 2012 to $5 trillion in 2023.  Tax revenues will settle in at 19 percent of economic output, a full percentage point higher than the historical average.  That means that tax revenues every year will be running $150 billion to $200 billion higher than what we’ve come to experience as the norm since the Second World War. 

American taxpayers are already doing their part, Mr. President.  It’s time for Washington to go on a spending diet.

Obama Claim #2:  “We should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected.”

Reality:  Most so-called “tax expenditures” are actually common, everyday tax benefits enjoyed by the middle class.  As for denying these tax preferences to high-income households, that was already done as part of the fiscal cliff deal.  Besides, the tax code is already very steeply-progressive, and is only getting more so.  Washington’s giant debt and deficit problems are caused by overspending, not undertaxing.

Obama Claim #3:  “The American people deserve a tax code that…ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can’t pay a lower rate than their hard-working secretaries.”

Reality:  This is a straw man argument and is intellectually-dishonest.  CBO has already shown that billionaires pay taxes at a far greater rate than a middle class family.

A typical middle income family faces an average federal tax rate (total federal taxes divided by income) of 11 percent.  The top one percent of families face an average tax rate of 29 percent.  That’s nearly three times as high. 

The middle quintile of taxpayers finance less than 10 percent of all federal taxes paid.  The top one percenters finance over 22 percent of all federal taxes.  This is more than twice as much as the middle quintile.

Whether it’s expressed as percent of income paid in taxes or as percent of all taxes paid to the government, it’s clear that progressivity is not one of the problems in our tax code.  Tax reform is not about punishing households (many of whom are small businesses paying taxes using individual rates), but about creating a pro-growth tax system that creates jobs and wealth for all Americans.

Obama Claim #4:  “Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion...Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as ‘the sequester,’ are a really bad idea.”

Reality:  The President is claiming credit for the sequester savings while at the same time demanding the cuts be avoided. The $2.5 trillion in savings the President claims to have “worked together” with Congress to achieve are derived partially from spending caps in the Budget Control Act, and partially from $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts scheduled to take place over the next ten years. President Obama can’t avert those cuts while counting the savings as a successful token of bipartisan deficit reduction. Not mentioned in the speech? This “really bad idea” was Obama’s idea.

Obama Claim #5:  “So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.”

Reality:  President Obama is triple-counting these tax hikes. Elsewhere in the speech he suggests that the tax increases on oil and natural gas companies should be used to reduce the deficit, pay for the sequester, and now to create a new “Energy Security Trust.” Raising taxes on oil and natural gas companies gives the government about $5 billion dollars in additional revenue annually, which is enough to avert about six percent of the sequester, reduce the deficit by 0.5 percent, or create a new “Energy Security Trust” but not do all three. And the repercussions of these tax hikes would be substantial, killing 48,000 jobs and reducing our domestic production by 700,000 barrels of oil. 

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100 Years of the Income Tax: Then and Now


Posted by Ryan Ellis on Friday, February 1st, 2013, 3:55 PM PERMALINK


The century-long history of the income tax has been marked by more and more taxpayers paying higher and higher amounts of tax. 

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

View PDF here.

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Braces for the Kids Just Got More Expensive: Obamacare Tax Hike Case Study


Posted by Ryan Ellis, John Kartch on Friday, January 11th, 2013, 10:57 AM PERMALINK


As just one example, below are some of the taxes that will impact the purchase of dental braces:

Obamacare Medical Device Tax:  As of Jan.1, Obamacare imposes a new tax of 2.3 percent on medical device manufacturers, including those who make dental braces.  The tax is imposed on gross sales -- even if the company does not earn a profit in a given year.  While the tax will be paid to the IRS by the manufacturer, the tax will be passed along as a higher cost of the product, ultimately to be borne by the parent buying the braces for their child.  With the cost of braces being as high as $7,625 this new tax could raise the cost of these braces by $175.

Obamacare Flexible Spending Account Cap:  As of Jan. 1, 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 government cap of $2,500. This will squeeze $13 billion of tax money from Americans over the next ten years. (Before Obamacare, the accounts were unlimited under federal law, though employers were allowed to set a cap.) A parent looking to sock away extra money to pay for braces would find themselves quickly hitting this new cap, meaning they would have to pony up some or all of the cost with after-tax dollars.  Needless to say, this tax will especially impact middle class families.

Obamacare “Haircut” to the Medical Itemized Deduction:  Faced with higher prices for braces and a reduced ability to pay for them with their FSA, parents might decide to deduct the cost of braces on their tax returns.  Unfortunately, Obamacare makes this harder, too. 

Before Obamacare, Americans facing high medical and dental expenses were allowed a deduction to the extent that those expenses exceeded 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI).  As of Jan. 1, Obamacare 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.

According to the IRS, 10 million families took advantage of this tax deduction in 2009, the latest year of available data. Almost all are middle class. The average taxpayer claiming this deduction earned just over $53,000 annually. ATR estimates that the average income tax increase for the average family claiming this tax benefit will be $200 - $400 per year. To learn more about this tax, click here.

This is just a small example of how a simple, everyday, kitchen table decision has been fundamentally altered by the tax hikes in Obamacare.  It does not even take into account the indirect effects of the rest of the tax hikes in the law, which will reduce family income and kill jobs. 

Follow the authors on Twitter @JohnKartch and @RyanLEllis

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2013: Obamacare "High Medical Bills Tax" to hit 10 Million Middle Class Families


Posted by Ryan Ellis, John Kartch on Friday, January 4th, 2013, 1:19 PM PERMALINK


The average family subject to this new tax makes just over $53,000 and will face an income tax increase of between $200 - $400 per year.

Background:  Americans have long been allowed to deduct out of pocket medical expenses as an itemized deduction on their taxes. They cannot have already benefited from other tax provisions for health care like tax-free employer-provided care or tax-free accounts like flexible spending accounts (FSAs) or health savings accounts (HSAs). A full list of qualified expenses can be found in IRS Publication 502.

After totaling all unreimbursed, out-of-pocket medical expenses, the taxpayer must then subtract from this figure an amount equal to 7.5 percent of the taxpayer's adjusted gross income (AGI). This subtraction amount is known commonly as a "haircut."

According to the IRS, 10 million families took advantage of this tax deduction in 2009, the latest year of available data. They deducted $80 billion in medical expenses after applying the “haircut.”  The Office of Management and Budget reports that this tax deduction saves these taxpayers upwards of $10 billion annually.

Obamacare's tax hike:  The Obamacare law made one change to this tax provision: it raised the "haircut" from 7.5 percent of AGI to 10 percent of AGI. Since virtually all taxpayers claiming this income tax deduction make less than $200,000 per year, the income tax hike falls almost exclusively on the middle class:

-Virtually every family taking this deduction made less than $200,000 in 2009. Over 90 percent earned less than $100,000.

-The average taxpayer claiming this deduction earns just over $53,000 annually.

-ATR estimates that the average income tax increase for the average family claiming this tax benefit will be $200 - $400 per year.

-This income tax increase is focused on families with the largest medical bills that weren't covered by insurance. So the target population is low- and middle-income families with debilitating medical costs. That's a good definition of the opposite of “affordable” or “caring.”

According to the Joint Tax Committee, this tax increase is scheduled to raise between $2 billion and $3 billion annually. That may be a drop in the bucket in Washington DC, but try telling that to the $53,000 family with high medical bills that just saw a tax increase.  

The tax is a clear violation of President Obama's "firm pledge" in 2008 to not enact "any form of tax increase" on these families.

President Obama and his Democrat congressional allies have some explaining to do.

View PDF here.

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No Pledge Signer Voted to Raise Taxes in Fiscal Cliff Bill


Posted by Ryan Ellis on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013, 4:06 PM PERMALINK


No Taxpayer Protection Pledge signer voted for a tax increase this week.  No one—except President Obama—has broken their tax pledge to their constituents.  President Obama is wrong to say that Republicans voted for a tax increase.

As December 31, 2012 became January 1, 2013, taxes went up automatically on every American.  The top marginal income tax rate rose from 35 to 39.6%.  The death tax rate rose from 35 to 55%, with an exemption of $1 million.  The capital gains rate rose from 15 to 23.8%.  The dividends rate rose from 15 to 43.8%.  $1 trillion in Obamacare tax increases went into effect.  The 2 percentage point payroll tax rebate expired.  This was a permanent change in tax law, and a permanent tax hike on the American people.

This tax increase did not happen because of Republican Pledge signers.  The House, for example, voted to make all income tax rates permanent as part of the House budget, and also in H.R. 8 in July 2012.  Senate Republicans repeatedly emphasized that their goal was to avoid income tax increases on any American. This happened because President Obama wanted it to happen - if the President wanted to extend tax relief for middle class Americans, he would have done so when his party controlled both the White House and Congress in 2009 and 2010.  He would have campaigned in 2012 on more than a one-year tax hike reprieve for families making less than $250,000 per year.  The President wanted taxes to go up on New Years Eve, and they did.  They rose for each and every American family and small business.

Because of this tax increase, Congress’s job after that was to cut taxes for the American people, and that’s exactly what lawmakers did.

On New Years Day, the Senate and House voted on a bill to cut taxes by $3.7 trillion over the next decade.  The American people deserved a bigger tax cut; they deserved a cut that made permanent the levels in place from 2003 through 2012.  But there is good news.  This tax cut bill permanently secures tax relief for 99% of Americans.  It sets a tax rate schedule permanently.  It patches the AMT permanently.  It cuts the dividend tax rate permanently.  Importantly, income tax bills for those making less than $250,000 per year will not rise from 2012 levels, ever.  As House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said on the House floor last night, this tax bill “settles the level of revenue Washington should bring in.”  For the first time in a long time, the tax revenue baseline is permanent.

Because this bill was clearly a tax cut (to say otherwise is to pretend that the Obama tax increase never happened), there were no Taxpayer Protection Pledge implications to this vote.  This bill was a tax relief bill.  No Pledge signer is obligated to support tax relief, so those who voted against this bill weren’t violating their Pledge, either.  Going forward, with the specter of automatic tax increases effectively eliminated, tax increases will be clear and obvious, and questions about the Pledge will be less difficult.  If, as is anticipated, Obama presses for tax increases this year, Pledge signers will stop him cold.

Now the focus turns to the real problem: spending.  Over the next 90 days, Congress will have three opportunities to cut spending: during debate regarding the sequester, the continuing resolution, and the debt ceiling.  These are all opportunities to extract real spending cuts and entitlement reforms out of Washington.  The U.S. House won’t be voting for any tax hikes, since (as Chairman Camp put it), the revenue level is now settled.

The House can also turn to fundamental tax reform.  As it has done for the past two years, we expect the House to endorse comprehensive tax reform with the new permanent revenue baseline as part of the budget.  Chairman Camp has indicated he will produce a revenue-neutral tax reform bill this year.
ATR looks forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to enact spending cuts and oppose tax hikes.
 

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ATR Statement on "Plan B" Tax Plan


Posted by Ryan Ellis on Wednesday, December 19th, 2012, 11:53 AM PERMALINK


ATR has consistently maintained that individual Members of Congress make a pledge to their constituents to oppose and vote against tax increases.  The House this week will vote on a tax bill.  This legislation—popularly known as “Plan B”--permanently prevents a tax increase on families making less than $1 million per year.  Republicans supporting this bill are this week affirming to their constituents in writing that this bill—the sole purpose of which is to prevent tax increases—is consistent with the pledge they made to them.  In ATR’s analysis, it is extremely difficult—if not impossible—to fault these Republicans’ assertion.

In particular, in this Congress the House has already voted twice to prevent any tax increases on any American.  When viewed with this in mind, and considering this tax bill contains no tax increases of any kind—in fact, it permanently prevents them—matters become more clear.  Having finally seen actual legislation in writing, ATR is now able to make its determination about a legislative proposal related to the fiscal cliff. ATR will not consider a vote for this measure a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

UPDATE: Despite inaccurate press reports, the statement above is not to be misconstrued as an endorsement of any legislation.

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Dividend Tax Rate to Triple in 2013


Posted by Ryan Ellis on Friday, December 14th, 2012, 3:38 PM PERMALINK


As part of the fiscal cliff, the top tax rate on dividends is scheduled to nearly triple in 2013.  Here are some questions you might have:

What is a dividend?  A dividend is a cash payment that a company makes to shareholders.  Typically, it's expressed as a certain number of cents per share.  This also allows you to express the dividend in terms of a "dividend yield."  For example, a stock trading at $10.00 per share and issuing a dividend yearly of $0.25 per share has a dividend yield of 2.5% (that is, $0.25 divided by $10.00).

According to the latest IRS data, 25.4 million families receive "qualified" (stock-derived) dividends annually.  In 2009, this totaled $124 billion.  The total amount of dividends issued is far greater than this, since this only accounts for dividends flowing to individuals' taxable brokerage accounts.  A February 2011 study by JP Morgan estimates that total dividend payouts look more like $700 billion.

What type of people receive dividends?  Almost everyone benefits from dividends.  If you are covered by a traditional pension or 401(k) plan at work, you almost certainly own dividend-paying stocks and mutual funds that own dividend-paying stocks.  Ditto for your IRA or Roth IRA.  Additionally, the IRS data cited above shows that over 25 million American families choose to receive dividends directly.

According to the Tax Foundation, the lion's share of dividends are earned in senior households (65 years and older).  One-third of all households receiving dividends are senior households, and nearly half of dividend income is earned by seniors.

Aren't dividends just for wealthy people?  Traditional pensions, 401(k)s, and IRAs are accounts for middle class Americans, not rich people.  That's where many dividends end up.  Additionally, nearly 23 million out of the 25 million American families that get paid dividends directly earn less than $200,000 per year.  Over 40 percent of all taxable dividends are earned in these households.

How are dividends currently taxed?  Dividends are not deductible to the company issuing them.  Thus, they are drawn from after-tax corporate profits.  When a dividend is received by an individual in a taxable brokerage account, he typically faces a tax rate of 15% federally--the same as the long-term capital gains tax rate.

How should dividends be taxed?  Because dividends are derived from corporate income which has already been subject to tax, there should not be an additional tax assessed on the dividend recipient.  To do so is to introduce a cascaded double tax.  When put together with the 35 percent corporate income tax rate, the current integrated double-tax on dividends amounts to 44.75 percent federally.  The proper tax rate on qualified dividends should be "zero."

How will the fiscal cliff increase taxes on dividends?  There are two tax increases on dividends happening at the same time as part of the fiscal cliff.  The first is that dividends will no longer be taxed at the same rate as long-term capital gains, but will revert back to their pre-2003 treatment and be taxed as ordinary income.  In addition, Obamacare imposes a new 3.8 percent "surtax" on investment income for families making more than $250,000 beginning in 2013.  When combined, these two tax increases result in a near-tripling of the top dividends tax rate from 15 percent today to 43.4 percent in 2013.  The integrated top double-tax rate on dividends rises from 44.75 percent today to 63.21 percent in 2013:

  Dividend Only Rate Double Tax Rate
2012 15% 44.75%
2013 43.4% 63.21%


What will this tax increase do for shareholders?  Efficient stock markets must price in changes to the tax rate on stocks.  All things being equal, a higher dividend tax rate should result in a fall in company dividend yields, since dividends will be a less attractive return on investment.  Historically, dividends represent about one-fifth of the total return on stocks.  This suggests that the after-tax total return on stocks will become depressed as a result of a hike in the dividend tax rate.

What if I have all my savings in an IRA or 401(k)?  I don't pay dividend taxes.  Tax-advantaged accounts such as traditional pensions, 401(k)s, and IRAs don't face dividend taxation.  They do, however, face the same corrective market forces described above.  As a result, families' nest eggs should take a hit just like the broader stock market.

Congress should prevent the two tax increases on dividends from happening as part of the fiscal cliff.

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