The High Cost of Liberalism

Taxes too high? You ain't seen nothing yet.

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Congress is in recess and many Americans are on vacation, but all that will end when Labor Day has passed and the House and Senate are back at work.

And that means the Europeanization of America will again be in full gear, from expanding government control and regulation of as many things as possible, to raising taxes, expanding the size of government, and reducing the choices individuals are allowed.

The Treasury reports that our country's federal debt has doubled in nine years, rising steadily, year by year, to $10.72 trillion from $5.67 trillion in 2000. Our deficit for the current year fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, is expected to total $1.8 trillion, four times last year's figure, leaving us with a federal debt of $38,500 for every U.S. resident. Our economy is doing poorly; it will shrink about 2.6% this year. Unemployment in July reached 9.4% and will likely further increase, and tax revenues are down $353 billion over the first 10 months of this fiscal year.

So we can easily see what is just around the corner. Earlier this month Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, director of the National Economic Council, opened the door, suggesting that taxes on all taxpayers will have to go up. As Stephen Moore noted in The Wall Street Journal, "it would take almost $16,000 more from every household in America to balance the budget this year." We certainly won't get to balanced budgets for decades, but substantially higher taxation seems inevitable.

All of which leads to the essential economic question: Which tax increases do the current administration and Congress intend to enact? There are more than a dozen, all of which would negatively affect our economy.

One has already been signed into law by President Obama: an increase in the tax on tobacco, to $1.01 a pack of cigarettes from 39 cents, and to as much as 40 cents a cigar from a nickel--increases of 159% and 700%, respectively. This is expected to bring in $8 billion a year. Next up is a possible increase in alcohol, beer and wine taxes, raising about another $6 billion annually, and perhaps another $5 billion a year on sugary drinks will be enacted.

Then come a series of substantial tax increases that are on the Washington agenda that, if enacted, will create real problems for our country's economy.

First, allowing the expiration of the previous Bush administration tax cuts at the end of 2010. These reductions increased government tax receipts by $785 billion (just as the Kennedy and Reagan tax cuts increased tax revenues) and gave us eight million new jobs over a 52-month period. The cuts go away if Congress does nothing, raising tax rates on the top earners will to 39.6% from 35%, and on the next-highest bracket to 36% from 33%. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that 55% of these tax increases will come from small-business income.

Next comes Rep. Charles Rangel's additional tax increases, a part of the House health-care bill. The House Ways and Means chairman calls for a 1% surtax on couples with more than $350,000 in income, 1.5% on incomes more than $500,000, and 5.4% on incomes more than $1 million. The extra tax would kick in at lower levels for unmarried taxpayers. And if promised health-care cost savings don't materialize, the surtaxes would automatically double.

The House health-care bill contains several tax increases that would hit couples earning under $250,000 a year, contrary to President Obama's promises: $8.2 billion of tax increases for people using health savings accounts or other tax-free savings to purchase over-the-counter drugs; a "Comparative Effectiveness Research Tax" of $2 billion on all private and "public option" insurance, plus up to 8% paid by employers--mostly small businesses--that don't offer health insurance. There is even a proposed tax on individuals who do not have health insurance.

Then come some other tax increases the administration has favored:

  • An increased tax on American companies doing business in other countries.
  • Raising or abolishing the wage cap on Social Security taxes, which would effectively convert Social Security into a welfare program.
  • Reducing the tax benefit for itemized deductions like charitable contributions, which would reduce philanthropy.

And then there's the Waxman-Markey "cap and trade" bill that has passed the House and will be taken up in the Senate this fall. It would give the government total control of the production, prices, availability and use of energy and add a global energy tax to imported goods--serious American protectionism. It would shrink America's economy by $400 billion each year and cause the loss of some 2.5 million jobs. For a household of four it would cost an average of about $3,000 a year. By 2035 the total family annual increased cost would be $4,600 for power, food, supplies, gasoline and transportation.

All told, the administration and Congress are pushing massive tax increases. Without a specific proposal we don't know how much taxes would go up if the Social Security ceiling is raised, but add the others up and we see up to $200 billion--and it could well be much more--in annual tax increases on businesses, individuals and the overall economy, which is already in recession.

The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger observes that "to an independent voter or moderate Democrat, President Everyman is starting to look like a salesman for the superstate." These many proposed tax increases reinforce the point. They not only would be economically damaging, but chart a very scary course for our country.