Taxes rising for most despite fiscal deal

Last Updated: Thursday, January 03, 2013, 7:48 AM EST
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While the tax package that Congress passed New Year's Day will protect 99 percent of Americans from an income tax increase, most of them will still end up paying more federal taxes in 2013.

That's because the legislation did nothing to prevent a temporary reduction in the Social Security payroll tax from expiring. In 2012, that 2-percentage-point cut in the payroll tax was worth about $1,000 to a worker making $50,000 a year.

The Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington research group, estimates that 77 percent of American households will face higher federal taxes in 2013 under the agreement negotiated between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans. High-income families will feel the biggest tax increases, but many middle- and low-income families will pay higher taxes too.

Households making between $40,000 and $50,000 will face an average tax increase of $579 in 2013, according to the Tax Policy Center's analysis. Households making between $50,000 and $75,000 will face an average tax increase of $822.

"For most people, it's just the payroll tax," said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center.

The tax increases could be a lot higher. A huge package of tax cuts first enacted under President George W. Bush was scheduled to expire Tuesday as part of the "fiscal cliff." The Bush-era tax cuts lowered taxes for families at every income level, reduced investment taxes and the estate tax, and enhanced a number of tax credits, including a $1,000-per-child credit.

The package passed Tuesday by the Senate and House extends most the Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making less than $400,000 and married couples making less than $450,000.

Obama said the deal "protects 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small business owners from a middle-class tax hike. While neither Democrats nor Republicans got everything they wanted, this agreement is the right thing to do for our country."

The income threshold covers more than 99 percent of all households, exceeding Obama's claim, according to the Tax Policy Center. However, the increase in payroll taxes will hit nearly every wage earner.

Social Security is financed by a 12.4 percent tax on wages up to $113,700, with employers paying half and workers paying the other half. Obama and Congress reduced the share paid by workers from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for 2011 and 2012, saving a typical family about $1,000 a year.

Obama pushed hard to enact the payroll tax cut for 2011 and to extend it through 2012. But it was never fully embraced by either party, and this time around, there was general agreement to let it expire.

The new tax package would increase the income tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent on income above $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for married couples. Investment taxes would increase for people who fall in the new top tax bracket.

High-income families will also pay higher taxes this year as part of Obama's 2010 health care law. As part of that law, a new 3.8 percent tax is being imposed on investment income for individuals making more than $200,000 a year and couples making more than $250,000.

Together, the new tax package and Obama's health care law will produce significant tax increases for many high-income families.

For 2013, households making between $500,000 and $1 million would get an average tax increase of $14,812, according to the Tax Policy Center analysis. Households making more than $1 million would get an average tax increase of $170,341.

"If you're rich, you're almost certain to get a big tax increase," Williams said.

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Average tax increase by income bracket

ANNUAL INCOME AVERAGE TAX INCREASE
$20,000 – $30,000 $297
$30,000 – $40,000 $445
$40,000 – $50,000 $579
$50,000 – $75,000 $822
$75,000 – $100,000 $1,206
$100,000 – $200,000 $1,784
$200,000 – $500,000 $2,711
$500,000 – $1 million
$14,812
More than $1 million
$170,341
  • Source: Tax Policy Center

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Congress OKs cliff deal, signaling future fights

Congress' excruciating, extraordinary New Year's Day approval of a compromise averting a prolonged tumble off the fiscal cliff hands President Barack Obama most of the tax boosts on the rich that he campaigned on. It also prevents House Republicans from facing blame for blocking tax cuts for most American households, though most GOP lawmakers parted ways with Speaker John Boehner and opposed the measure.

Passage also lays the groundwork for future battles between the two sides over federal spending and debt.

Capping a holiday season political spectacle that featured enough high and low notes for a Broadway musical, the GOP-run House voted final approval for the measure by 257-167 late Tuesday. That came after the Democratic-led Senate used a wee-hours 89-8 roll call to assent to the bill, belying the partisan brinkmanship that colored much of the path to the final deal.

"A central promise of my campaign for president was to change the tax code that was too skewed towards the wealthy at the expense of working middle-class Americans," Obama said at the White House before flying to Hawaii to resume his holiday break. "Tonight we've done that."

The bill would boost the top 35 percent income tax rate to 39.6 percent for incomes exceeding $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples, while continuing decade-old income tax cuts for everyone else. In his re-election campaign last year Obama had vowed to boost rates on earnings at somewhat lower levels - $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for families.

Scores of GOP lawmakers voted for the measure, reversing a quarter-century of solid Republican opposition to boosting any tax rates at all.

The bill would also raise taxes top earners pay on dividends, capital gains and inherited estates; permanently stop the alternative minimum tax from raising levies on millions of middle-income families; extend expiring jobless benefits; prevent cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors; and delay for two months billions in budget-wide cuts in defense and domestic programs slated for this year.

Both sides lamented their failure to reach a significant deficit-cutting agreement. But neither much mentioned another omission: The immediate expiration of a two-year, 2-percentage-point cut in the Social Security payroll tax.

That break, which put an extra $1,000 in the wallets of typical families earning $50,000 a year, was an Obama priority two years ago as a way to boost consumer spending and spark the flagging economy, but it fell victim this time to other priorities.

House Democrats voted by an overwhelming 172-16 for the agreement, which was crafted over the weekend by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Vice President Joe Biden.

But Republicans tilted against it 151-85. It is rare for leaders to bring a bill to the House floor that will be opposed by most lawmakers from their own party, and the decision underscored the pressure GOP leaders felt to approve the legislation.

Boehner, R-Ohio, took no public stance on the measure before the vote. But he guided the compromise to the House floor after an unsuccessful attempt by many conservatives to persuade leaders to add spending cuts to the bill.

Had the House inserted those budget cuts and the Senate refused to consider them, the legislation could have died. That left House Republicans worried that voters might blame them for a huge, sweeping tax increase and for any swoon the nation's financial markets might take when they reopened Wednesday.

"You can be right and you can be dead right. Which is it?" said Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., of the quandary Republicans faced. "Right now you need to take the tax issue off the table" and move on to a focus on curbing spending, he said.

Boehner voted for the bill, an unusual step because speakers seldom vote, and he was joined by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the GOP's vice presidential candidate last fall. Voting "no" were the other two top GOP leaders, Reps. Eric Cantor of Virginia and Kevin McCarthy of California.

Passage came nearly 24 hours after a decade's worth of tax cuts enjoyed by tens of millions of Americans expired with the stroke of the new year, technically raising taxes by more than $500 billion in 2013 alone.

Those tax increases - plus $109 billion in defense and domestic spending cuts that were to be automatically triggered Wednesday - became known as the fiscal cliff. Economists warned that their combined impact would hurl the economy back into recession, but Obama's signature on the bill would prevent the "cliff" from taking hold.

Obama can sign the bill remotely using a machine called an "autopen," or the bill can be flown to Hawaii for his signature.

Overall, the legislation would add nearly $4 trillion to federal deficits over the next decade compared with what would have happened had all the tax cuts expired, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

"I'm embarrassed for this generation. Future generations deserve better," complained one foe, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.

The agreement's journey to passage was a tortured one. It included negotiations between Obama and Boehner on a larger, deficit-cutting deal that collapsed, and a failed effort by the speaker to drum up enough GOP votes to pass a "Plan B" that would have limited tax boosts to incomes exceeding $1 million.

It took weekend talks between McConnell and Biden, former Senate colleagues, to craft the more modest package that focused on averting the worst impacts of the fiscal cliff while postponing any deficit reduction efforts to coming months.

Those first showdowns will come over the next three months, when the government's legal ability to borrow money will expire and temporary financing for federal agency budgets will expire. Republicans have already said that, as they did in 2011, they will demand spending cuts as a condition for extending the debt ceiling.

"Now the focus turns to spending" and overhauling the tax code, Boehner said in a written statement after the vote. He said the GOP will fight for "significant spending cuts and reforms to the entitlement programs that are driving our country deeper and deeper into debt," a reference to costly benefit programs like Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

Spending cuts are "going to be a component of every single battle we have" in the new Congress, conservative GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee told CNN on Wednesday.

Obama, in his White House remarks, said that while he was open to compromise, he would demand deficit-cutting savings from added revenue on the well-off, not just spending cuts.

He also pointedly said he would "not have another debate with this Congress" over extending the federal borrowing limit.

"If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic - far worse than the impact of a fiscal cliff," he said.

Though its focus was on taxes, the measure approved Tuesday would prevent a potential doubling of milk prices and prevent a $900 salary increase for members of Congress in March. Its extension of jobless benefits would help 2 million people out of work at least six months, and it would prevent a 27 percent cut in reimbursements doctors get for treating Medicare patients.

Weighing in with criticism of the compromise were the chief authors of an influential bipartisan deficit-cutting proposal, former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles, a former White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton. They called the measure "truly a missed opportunity to do something big to reduce our long term fiscal problems."

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How your local lawmakers voted

Districts served in the outgoing 112th Congress, before the 2012 redistricting in Florida.
**  Outgoing representatives not re-elected to the 113th Congress, to be sworn in Jan. 3, 2013.

LAWMAKER DISTRICT * PARTY YES NO
Senators        
  Bill Nelson D X  
  Marco Rubio R   X
Representatives        
  Corrine Brown 3 D X  
  Rich Nugent 5 R   X
  Cliff Stearns ** 6 R   X
  John Mica 7 R   X
  Dan Webster 8 R   X
  Gus Bilirakis 9 R   X
  Bill Young 10 R X  
  Kathy Castor 11 D X  
  Dennis Ross 12 R   X
  Vern Buchanan 13 R X  
  Bill Posey 15 R   X
  Sandy Adams ** 24 R   X

Rep. Dan Webster (R-Winter Garden) tweeted his reason for voting no on the bill late Tuesday night, saying: "Voted against the fiscal cliff bill tonight because it does not begin to address the true fiscal problems we face."

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Details of Senate bill

Highlights of a bill approved Tuesday by the Senate aimed at averting wide tax increases and budget cuts scheduled to take effect in the new year. The measure would raise taxes by about $600 billion over 10 years compared with tax policies that were due to expire at midnight Monday. It would also delay for two months across-the-board cuts to the budgets of the Pentagon and numerous domestic agencies.

Highlights include:

- Income tax rates: Extends decade-old tax cuts on incomes up to $400,000 for individuals, $450,000 for couples. Earnings above those amounts would be taxed at a rate of 39.6 percent, up from the current 35 percent. Extends Clinton-era caps on itemized deductions and the phase-out of the personal exemption for individuals making more than $250,000 and couples earning more than $300,000.

- Estate tax: Estates would be taxed at a top rate of 40 percent, with the first $5 million in value exempted for individual estates and $10 million for family estates. In 2012, such estates were subject to a top rate of 35 percent.

- Capital gains, dividends: Taxes on capital gains and dividend income exceeding $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for families would increase from 15 percent to 20 percent.

- Alternative minimum tax: Permanently addresses the alternative minimum tax and indexes it for inflation to prevent nearly 30 million middle- and upper-middle income taxpayers from being hit with higher tax bills averaging almost $3,000. The tax was originally designed to ensure that the wealthy did not avoid owing taxes by using loopholes.

- Other tax changes: Extends for five years Obama-sought expansions of the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit, and an up-to-$2,500 tax credit for college tuition. Also extends for one year accelerated "bonus" depreciation of business investments in new property and equipment, a tax credit for research and development costs and a tax credit for renewable energy such as wind-generated electricity.

- Unemployment benefits: Extends jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for one year.

- Cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors: Blocks a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors for one year. The cut is the product of an obsolete 1997 budget formula.

- Social Security payroll tax cut: Allows a 2-percentage-point cut in the payroll tax first enacted two years ago to lapse, which restores the payroll tax to 6.2 percent.

- Across-the-board cuts: Delays for two months $109 billion worth of across-the-board spending cuts set to start striking the Pentagon and domestic agencies this week. Cost of $24 billion is divided between spending cuts and new revenues from rule changes on converting traditional individual retirement accounts into Roth IRAs.

  • Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.