James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Is Obama planning a $3 trillion income tax increase?

Nov 17, 2009 19:51 UTC

Did I just see a trial balloon launched? Over at a Wall Street Journal conference, Christina Romer, chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers had this to say about deficit reduction:

But the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers admitted that health reform and a growing economy isn’t enough to bring down the deficit. She did mention one other place that revenue could come from: letting the Bush tax cuts expire.

Me: Since Obama already wants to get rid of the income and capital gains tax cuts for wealthier Americans that expire at the end of 2010, clearly what Romer is referring to is the rest of the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts. Letting all the 2001 cuts — rate reductions, child tax credit marriage penalty relief — expire would raise tax revenues by $2.5 trillion through 2019. (These CBO numbers assume no negative economic feedback impact from higher taxes.) And letting the 2003 tax cuts on capital gains and dividends expire would be tantamount to a $350 billion tax increase through 2019. And none of this includes possible plans for a VAT that could raise $400 billion a year more to close the huge projected gap — maybe 7 percentage points — between spending as a percentage of GDP and revenues as a percentage of GDP.

COMMENT

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VAT Attack! The mysterious Christina Romer and higher taxes

Oct 28, 2009 18:21 UTC

Christina Romer’s speech on Monday had this overlooked bit, which I put into bold:

Our calculations showed that slowing the growth rate of health care costs by one and a half percentage points starting in 2014 would result in a budget deficit in 2020 that was 1 percent of GDP smaller than it otherwise would have been. By 2030, the impact is a reduction in the budget deficit of 3 percent of GDP; by 2040, it is a reduction of 6 percent of GDP.23 These estimates make vivid the notion that the number-one thing we can do to help get the long-run budget deficit under control is to slow the growth rate of health care costs.

Now, slowing the growth rate of costs will not solve all of our long-run budget problems. Our population is aging and even lowering the growth rate of health care costs quite substantially leaves them growing faster than GDP. As a result, other actions will also need to be taken. While health care reform may not be the “silver bullet,” it clearly must be a significant part of the solution to our deficit woes. It is the key step that we can take right now to bring the long-run budget problem down to manageable proportions.

Me:  What “other actions” might she be referring to? Obviously higher taxes. Indeed, earlier in the speech she references the work of economists William Gale and Alan Auberach in this Brookings report:

Even if rising health care costs are an important component of the long-term problem, they are not necessarily “the” cause of the fiscal gap. The estimated gap is increased by more than 5 percentage points of GDP just by continuation of the policies that were enacted during the Bush Administration. … It will prove difficult to close the gap entirely via modifications to existing taxes and spending programs. A new revenue source, such as a value added tax (VAT), may be needed. A VAT imposed at a rate between 15 and 20 percent would essentially close the fiscal gap under the Administration’s budget.

Romer: Unemployment likely to remain “severely elevated”

Oct 22, 2009 17:04 UTC

Watch CEA chair Christina Romer manage voter expectations:

Consistent with the recent cyclical pattern, the unemployment rate is predicted to continue rising for two quarters following the resumption of GDP growth. Whether this happens and how high the unemployment rate eventually rises will obviously depend on the strength of the GDP rebound. …  With predicted growth right around two and a half percent for most of the next year and a half, movements in the unemployment rate either up or down are likely to be small. As a result, unemployment is likely to remain at its severely elevated level.

WH adviser Romer: ‘Cringes’ at talk of exit strategy

Sep 25, 2009 18:03 UTC

CEA Chair Christina Romer at the Chicago Fed:

The economic historian in me cringes every time I hear mention of “exit” from fiscal
stimulus and rescue operations in the current situation. “Exit strategy” is one thing—of course
we should be planning for the time when private demand has recovered and governmentstimulated
demand can be withdrawn. But to talk seriously about stopping policy support at a
time when the unemployment rate is nearing 10 percent and still rising is to risk nipping the
nascent recovery in the bud.

Stimulus? Any day now …

Jun 29, 2009 19:07 UTC

White House economist Christina Romer says government stimulus is “going to ramp up strongly through the summer and the fall.”  This implies that a lack of stimulus explains the poor economy — not that the Obama stimulus plan is simply not working. Yet what stimulus is flowing into the economy isn’t working, as many predicted — including me and Milton Friedman. Listen to Gluskin Sheff economist David Rosenberg (bold is mine):

In April, total stimulus from the federal government to the personal sector, in the form of tax reduction and increased benefits, came to $121 billion at an annual rate. But that month, in nominal terms, consumer spending rose the grand total of $1 billion. Then we found out on Friday that in May, the total stimulus from the Obama economics team came to $163 billion at an annual rate, and consumer spending increased by a measly $25 billion (again at an annual rate). The big story is that the personal savings rate surged again to a new 16-year high of 6.9% from 5.6% in April and 4.3% in March. This is a repeat of the fiscal impact from the tax relief a year ago when the savings rate jumped from 0.2% in March 2008 to 4.8% in May 2008. This is what economists refer to as “Ricardian equivalence” — the money from Uncle Sam goes into the coffee can instead of being used to buy more coffee.

So let’s get this straight, the future taxpayer is being asked to contribute to a policy today that is aimed at perpetuating a consumer cycle — and yet for every dollar that is coming out of Washington to support a 70% consumption/GDP ratio, it is getting barely more than 8 cents worth of new spending activity. In real terms, as was the case with the tax rebates of just over a year ago, the real impact is on the savings rate, and it is very clear that not even the most aggressive monetary and fiscal policy since the 1930s is going to stop consumer spending in volume terms from rolling over in the second quarter.

COMMENT

This is a very good insight why the the government and business does not get the now consumer economics.

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