James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

More on America and the VAT

Oct 1, 2009 17:13 UTC

The oh-so-smart Andrew Samwick on the chances of a VAT over at the Capital Gains and Games blog:

James Pethokoukis is on the case, putting together the pieces of a “yes.”  My prediction: regardless of how urgent the need for revenue may be, taxes on the highest earners would have to go up dramatically before a VAT of any size would be passed.  Failing that, the Left’s history of the first two decades of the 21st century would be that taxes on the wealthy were lowered and 2001 and 2003 and then raised on the middle class in 201x.  The Left is already smarting from what it perceives (correctly, I might add) as a similar thing that happened in the 1980s, when income tax rates were lowered while payroll taxes were increased.  They won’t go in for this again unless a very large income tax increase on the highest earners is part of the bargain.

Me: This is another example of why I feel we need major tax reform rather than trying to glom something else onto the current system. But the politics are amazingly tricky, which is another reason why I don’t see why cutting spending is necessarily more difficult than raising taxes, politically speaking.

Obama’s not-so-secret plan to raise taxes

Oct 1, 2009 03:18 UTC

Does President Obama have a secret plan to raise taxes on middle-class Americans — and,well, pretty much everybody else — with a European-style, value-added tax? Actually, it’s not such a big secret. Connect the dots:

1) The joint statement from the just-concluded G20 Summit in Pittsburgh called for balanced global growth — which means Americans must spend less and save more and reduce its budget deficit.

2) That same weekend, John Podesta, co-chairman of Obama’s presidential transition team and an outside White House adviser, tells a Bloomberg reporter that a value-added tax is “more plausible today” than ever, adding that “there’s going to have to be revenue in this budget.” A VAT is a kind of consumption tax.

3) Yesterday, the Center for American Progress, the liberal think tank with close White House ties, holds a conference on the rising national debt. While speaker after speaker — Paul Krugman, Roger Altman, CAP President Podesta (again), Laura Tyson — admits entitlement spending must be reduced, they also agree that taxes must be raised. Altman suggests $400 billion in new tax revenue is needed almost immediately to calm financial market fears, and a VAT would be a great way of doing it. That’s $400 billion a year, by the way, not over ten years.

4) Also, yesterday was the first meeting of President Obama’s tax reform panel led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. In a two-part interview with Charlie Rose airing yesterday and today, Volcker says that if Washington can’t get spending under control, either a VAT or a carbon tax would be effective revenue raisers. “Those are two big ones,” he says.

5) As they used to say in the Soviet Union, “It’s no coincidence.” This is also the conclusion of one Washington insider with ties to the White House economic team: “Does this all add up to a trial balloon? Of course, it’s a trial balloon. And I expect the administration will propose major tax reform, including a VAT.”

Obama’s campaign promise to not raise taxes on households making less than $250,000 a year was always considered a joke here inside the Beltway. It’s the economic “consensus” — and this was true even before the financial meltdown and recession — that rising entitlement costs would eventually mean a higher tax burden for the American people.

Maybe it was a joke inside the campaign, too. Since being elected, Obama has raised cigarette taxes and has advocated raising healthcare taxes, energy and small business taxes, in addition to corporate taxes. What’s more, economic advisers like Larry Summers seem eager to get rid of all the Bush tax cuts, not just those on so-called wealthy Americans.

And it’s also no secret that economists love the idea of a VAT. It promotes savings over consumption, and its hidden nature may mean it has less behavioral impact on taxpayers. Conservative economist Bruce Bartlet puts it this way, “As a broad-based tax on consumption, it creates less economic distortion per dollar of revenue than any other tax–certainly much less than the income tax.” Indeed, a VAT is part of cash-strapped California’s newly proposed tax reform.

Liberals love the idea of a VAT because it’s, well, so European — also because it does raise tons of revenue to expand government. And that is what Obama wants: more revenue to pay for bigger government. Is a VAT better than the soak-the-rich approach favored by Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel? Sure. Of course, the concern is that a VAT would be in addition to new soak-the-rich taxes.

See, even after the recession, there might be a 6 percentage point difference between what Uncle Sam spends as a percentage of GDP and what it takes in. Liberals like Krugman have no problem with making up that difference purely through higher taxes, even though that translates into raising the national tax burden by at least a third. And that, even though such a massive hike might well have a crushing effect on growth.

Obama wants a VAT? First, it should be part of broader tax reform, including getting rid of capital gains and corporate taxes. Second, it should accompany an Economic Bill of Rights much like Ronald Reagan used to suggest. Its elements: a) a balanced budget amendment, b) a line-item veto, c) a spending limit such as inflation plus population growth, d) and a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate for any tax increases. (Reagan also wanted a prohibition on wage and price controls. That would likely kill ObamaCare.)

And come to think of it, let’s cut spending and streamline government before cash-strapped, wealth-reduced taxpayers are forced to pony up a penny more, OK?

COMMENT

THAT’S WHY OBAMA KEEPS ON SPENDING. HE WANTS TO CREATE A FISCAL CRISIS TO SAY A VAT TAX IS IMPERATIVE TO SAVE OUR ECONOMY… THIS PRESIDENT IS NOT WHAT WE VOTED FOR!!

Posted by Ron | Report as abusive

Will financial markets force a $400 billion tax hike or a VAT?

Sep 30, 2009 16:51 UTC

So I am at this CAP thing on the deficit where talk of higher taxes was hot and heavy. Both Robert Rubin and Roger Altman both seemed to imply that the financial markets will force action sooner rather than later on the deficit — and that means higher taxes.

Outside WH adviser and CAP president John Podesta was talking up the VAT over the weekend, and Altman said today that the WH will have to start doing $500 billion to $700 billion a year in annual deficit reduction during this term. Maybe $400 billion of that should come through higher taxes such as a national VAT.

Definitely the Wall Street guys seemed more worried than the academics like Alan Blinder or Laura Tyson about the near-term importance of deficit reduction. Blinder, also former Vice Chair of the Fed, says he could envision the dollar crashing because of American fiscal problems. And Tyson though the balance-sheet recession and expiration of the Bush tax cuts would mean slow growth ahead for the US economy.

Is Obama planning a VAT surprise for America?

Sep 28, 2009 13:34 UTC

So John Podesta, co-chairman of Obama’s presidential transition team, says a value-added tax is “more plausible today” than ever, adding that “there’s going to have to be revenue in this budget.” A few thoughts:

1) Podesta is also president of the George Soros-funded Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank closely allied with the White House.

2)  It’s consensus among centrist economists, like those in the White House, that America will need to raise taxes to cover budget shortfalls and a VAT is the most efficient way of doing this.

3) At the G20, Obama promised more coordinated economic policies, including having the US lower its borrowing and consume less. This could be done via a VAT, which would also let the US have more tax synchronization with other OECD countries.

4) It seems like the WH is staring to redefine its pledge not to raise taxes on those making less than 250k as applying only to income taxes.

Bottom line: These Podesta remarks sure sound like a trial balloon by the White House.

COMMENT

Kelsey,

I would be such an American, that is in favor of a VAT tax. The economy of the United States is hemmorraging money and will continue to do so, as baby boomers increase SS, Medicare, etc. obligations. Throw in additional spending measures, and revenues are greatly needed.

I am aware of many other individuals that are in support of a VAT. Perhaps out of necessity, rather than affection, but support nonetheless.

Posted by sddan | Report as abusive

G20: A global test for US economic policies?

Sep 25, 2009 14:20 UTC

This from the lede of today’s WSJ piece on the G20:

The Group of 20 nations is close to an agreement that would require members to subject their economic policies to a type of “peer review,” according to several senior G-20 officials, in a shift that would expose the U.S. and China to broad scrutiny of the way they run their economies.

Me: My gosh, I hope this is not one more step toward tax policy harmonization which would likely lead to higher US taxes and the addition of a VAT tax. On the other hand, the elevation of the status of the G20 is a good idea, especially if it can eventually have a global security component.

Poll: Americans don’t want a VAT healthcare tax

May 29, 2009 17:37 UTC

Scat VAT! Rasmussen reports that while Democrats would go for a national sales tax to pay for universal healthcare, no so the rest of the country:

Democrats strongly support a national sales tax to provide universal health insurance coverage. Republicans are opposed by a three-to-one margin, and those not affiliated with either major party are opposed two-to-one.

COMMENT

The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much.-Ronald Reagan

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