Opinion

David Cay Johnston

A tale of two healthcare plans

David Cay Johnston
Sep 11, 2012 14:53 UTC

No issue affecting taxes so clearly divides the two parties in the U.S. election as healthcare. The two parties, in their platforms, describe very different approaches to healthcare economics. Both use political plastic surgery to cover up ugly truths.

The stakes are huge. Americans spend $2.64 per person for healthcare for each purchasing power equivalent dollar spent by the 33 other countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD data shows the U.S. spends $8,233 per capita compared with an average of $3,118 in the other 33 countries.

A growing share of federal tax dollars, in direct spending and in tax breaks, is going to U.S. healthcare as the population ages, even though about one in six Americans lacks health insurance.

America‘s healthcare system, more accurately described as a non-system sick care system, totaled 17.6 percent of the economy in 2010, compared to an average of 9.2 percent in the other 33 countries, as the OECD data shows.

In the United States, total public and private cost of healthcare is significantly greater than the total of corporate and individual income taxes, as well as payroll taxes. For each dollar paid in all three of those taxes in 2010, healthcare came to $1.29.

Romney and Ryan’s dangerous tax roadmap

David Cay Johnston
Sep 7, 2012 15:41 UTC

Together Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have put human faces on how the super-rich game the tax system to pay less, pay later and sometimes not pay at all. Both want to expand tax favors for the already rich, like themselves.

Their approach favors dynastic wealth with largely tax-free (Romney) or completely tax-free (Ryan) lifestyles, encouraging future generations of shiftless inheritors. What we need instead is a tax system that encourages strivers in competitive markets, not a perpetual oligarchy.

Romney and Ryan say that lowering tax rates and reducing or eliminating taxes on capital gains and dividends, while letting huge fortunes pass untaxed to heirs, will boost economic growth and mean prosperity for all.

The fortunate 400

David Cay Johnston
Jun 6, 2012 14:33 UTC

Six American families paid no federal income taxes in 2009 while making something on the order of $200 million each. This is one of many stunning revelations in new IRS data that deserves a thorough airing in this year’s election campaign.

The data, posted on the IRS website last week, brings into sharp focus the debate over whether the rich need more tax cuts (Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans) or should pay higher rates (President Obama and most Democrats).

The annual report, which the IRS typically releases with a two-year delay, covers the 400 tax returns reporting the highest incomes in 2009. These families reported an average income of $202.4 million, down for the second year as the Great Recession slashed their capital gains.

Obama’s hamburger problem

David Cay Johnston
Mar 8, 2012 17:42 UTC

If President Barack Obama can persuade Congress to reduce the corporate income tax rate to 28 percent from 35 percent, he will move tax rates closer to what other modern countries charge.

But his plan to treat “manufacturing” as a special category, with a 25 percent tax rate, brings us to what I call Obama’s hamburger problem.

The problem is how to define manufacturing. To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart on obscenity, I know manufacturing when I see it; I just don’t know how to define it in tax law.

How Romney would tax us

David Cay Johnston
Feb 7, 2012 19:41 UTC

With so much attention placed on Mitt Romney’s verbal blunders, much less has been given to his written plans for the economy and taxes.

The Republican frontrunner’s 160-page “plan for jobs and economic growth,” which he released in September, contains some sound ideas. He would encourage more Americans to save and invest. And one of his proposals would strengthen America’s status as a technological powerhouse. See the plan here.

But there’s a side to the plan that would raise taxes on the poorest 125 million Americans while tilting tax cuts further toward the rich.

Newt and the NEWT Act

David Cay Johnston
Feb 3, 2012 21:41 UTC

Newt Gingrich’s 2010 income tax return inspired a quick response from U.S. congressman Pete Stark.

Twelve days after Gingrich, a Republican presidential hopeful, made his return public, Stark proposed the Narrowing Exceptions for Withholding Taxes (NEWT) Act.

This proposal has an uncertain future in Congress, but it would be a good addition to our tax laws, closing a significant loophole that Gingrich took advantage of.

Romney’s gift from Congress

David Cay Johnston
Jan 31, 2012 16:09 UTC

When the Romney campaign disclosed in December that the couple’s five sons had a $100 million trust fund, I suspected that, in setting up the fund, the Romneys used a tax strategy that allows some very rich people to avoid paying gift taxes. But it was impossible to know if this was the case without seeing their tax returns going back years.

So when Mitt Romney released the family’s 2010 tax return last week, I went looking. I found a hint on pages 132 and 134 of the return. It showed that the value of property placed that year into another family trust, the Ann D. Romney Blind Trust, was, for tax purposes, zero. The Ann Romney trust is not the same trust as the one that holds the Romney sons’ $100 million, but I wondered if the Romneys used the same approach in prior years when it came to valuing property placed into the sons’ trust.

Reuters emailed the Romney campaign spokeswoman to ask how much the Romneys paid in gift taxes on assets put into the sons’ trust over the last 17 years. The spokeswoman, citing Brad Malt, the Romney family tax lawyer, answered: none.

The burden of Romney’s tax returns

David Cay Johnston
Jan 20, 2012 18:49 UTC

A tax return says a lot about a man, especially one aspiring to be president.

If Mitt Romney makes good on his promise during Thursday night’s Republican candidates’ debate to release “multiple years” of his returns, it will likely stir up rather than calm the political storm unless he makes public all of his returns from 1984 through 1999. Those are the years when he built a fortune of more than $200 million while running Bain Capital Management.

There’s no suspicion that Romney has done anything illegal. But what should be secret about the taxpaying relationship between a presidential hopeful and his government?

Romney himself said late on Thursday: “I’m not going to apologize for being successful.”

GOP inaction means higher taxes

David Cay Johnston
Nov 22, 2011 19:03 UTC

The author is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Thanks to Republicans who signed Grover Norquist’s pledge never to raise taxes, your taxes are automatically scheduled to go up in January — unless you are a plutocrat.

The law that created the congressional super committee set a target of this week for reducing budget deficits. The committee failed to meet the target.

Republican members were willing to cut programs that benefit millions, but they would not raise taxes on the hundreds of thousands of families whose annual income is in the millions and, in a few cases, billions of dollars.

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