Opinion

The Great Debate

The health insurance reform stakes begin

 Diana Furchtgott-Roth–- Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The views expressed are her own. –-

Health reform season kicked off this week with a meeting between President Obama and 24 Senate Democrats at the White House in preparation for congressional hearings and debate on health care in the weeks ahead.

Obama declared: “So we can’t afford to put this off, and the dedicated public servants who are gathered here today understand that and they are ready to get going, and this window between now and the August recess I think is going to be the make-or-break period. ”

At issue is how best to use the $250 billion plus pot of money that could result from taxing the value of employer-provided health insurance. Currently, health insurance provided by the employer to workers is free of income tax. When Senator McCain suggested eliminating tax-free employer-provided health insurance and replacing it with an individual tax credit to be used for health insurance purchases from any company, Obama accused him of raising taxes.

Now, according to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, one of the attendees at the White House meeting, President Obama is open to ending the tax break—without substituting an alternative individual tax credit—in order to finance health care reform. Removal of the tax exclusion would break Obama’s campaign promise not to raise taxes on Americans making less than $250,000 per year.

A simpler way to pay taxes

 Diana Furchtgott-Roth– Diana Furchtgott-Roth, dfr@hudson.org, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The views expressed are her own.  –

It’s April 15, and you’ve finished the arduous task of filing your taxes. You’ve found your W-2 form from your employer, your pennies of interest income from your checking account. If you itemize, you’ve tracked down the acknowledgement of your charitable contributions to the church, the Sierra Club, and the local anti-poverty organization.

The system is so complex that it may have contributed to the tax delinquencies of four Cabinet-level Obama appointees (or their spouses) who had to pay up to win Senate confirmation. At least two other Obama choices withdrew because of their tax problems.

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