From the Wall Street Journal:
President Obama was right about his audacity, if not always the hope. Six months after he agreed to a bipartisan extension of current tax rates, he is now insisting on tax increases as part of the debt-ceiling talks. At his press conference yesterday he repeated this demand, as well as his recent talking point that taxes are lower than they’ve been in generations. Let’s examine that claim because it explains Washington’s real revenue problem—slow economic growth.
Mr. Obama has a point that tax receipts are near historic lows, but the cause isn’t tax rates that are too low. As the nearby table shows, as recently as 2007 the current tax structure raised 18.5% of GDP in revenue, which is slightly above the modern historical average. Even in 2008, when the economy grew not at all, federal tax receipts still came in at 17.5% of the economy.
Today’s revenue problem is the result of the mediocre economic recovery. Tax collections in 2009 fell below 15% of GDP, the lowest level since 1950. But remarkably, tax receipts stayed that low even in the recovery year of 2010. So far this fiscal year tax receipts are growing at a healthy 10% clip, so the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) January estimate of 14.8% of GDP is probably low. We suspect revenues will be closer to 16%, but even that would be the weakest revenue rebound from any recession in 50 years, and far below the average tax take since 1970 of 18.2%.
But what about the liberal claim, repeated constantly, that the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 caused today’s deficits? CBO has shown this to be demonstrably false. On May 12, the budget arm of Congress examined the changes in its baseline projections from 2001 through 2011. In 2001, it had predicted a surplus in 2011 of $889 billion. Instead, it expects a deficit of $1.4 trillion.
What explains that $2.29 trillion budget reversal? Well, the direct revenue loss from the combination of the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts contributed roughly $216 billion, or only about 9.5% of the $2.29 trillion. And keep in mind that even this low figure is based on a static revenue model that assumes almost no gains from faster economic growth.
After the Bush investment tax cuts of 2003, tax revenues were $786 billion higher in 2007 ($2.568 trillion) than they were in 2003 ($1.782 trillion), the biggest four-year increase in U.S. history. So as flawed as it is, the current tax code with a top personal income tax rate of 35% is clearly capable of generating big revenue gains.
CBO’s data show that by far the biggest change in its deficit forecast is the spending bonanza, with outlays in 2011 that are $1.135 trillion higher than the budget office estimated a decade ago. One-third of that is higher interest payments on the national debt, notwithstanding record low interest rates. But $523 billion is due to domestic spending increases, including defense, education, Medicaid and the Obama stimulus. Mr. Bush’s Medicare drug plan accounts for $53 billion of this unanticipated spending in 2011.
The other big revenue reductions come from the “temporary” tax changes of the Obama stimulus and 2010 bipartisan tax deal. CBO says the December tax deal—which includes the one-year payroll tax cut and the annual fix on the alternative minimum tax—will reduce revenues by $196 billion this year. The temporary speedup in business expensing will cost another $55 billion.
One online post puts it thusly:
To put it simply though: we don’t have a tax revenue problem, we are spending way too much. The stats show this perfectly. In 2005 we generated $2.1 Trillion in taxes, and had $2.5 Trillion in federal spending. In 2010 we saw almost $3.5 Trillion in expenses, yet collected almost the same in taxes. These are official numbers from the White House, and not some partisan made up numbers.
We are spending way too much than what we take in, and we need to cut the excess bloat in our government. We need a much flatter and simpler tax code than what we have currently. The solution is simple: we need to spend less than what we earn.