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Gang of 6 plan would raise taxes

Exactly who would pay more and how much is unclear. But cherished deductions like the one for mortgage interest are targeted.

By Karen Datko Jul 21, 2011 7:02PM

Would your taxes go up or go down if the Gang of Six plan were adopted? That's the $1 trillion question.


That $1 trillion is the amount of new revenue in the 10-year deficit-reduction plan drafted by a bipartisan group of six U.S. senators. The rest of the plan to trim the deficit by $3.7 trillion would come from spending cuts.


This paragraph in the plan will interest you: "Reform, not eliminate, tax expenditures for health, charitable giving, homeownership, and retirement, and retain support for low-income workers and families." Yes, popular tax deductions like that for mortage interest would be on the table.


(Of course, nothing is certain here. President Obama and House Republicans are once again having talks on raising the debt ceiling and, The Washington Post reports, "According to congressional sources, Obama has apparently offered to forgo any tax increases in the initial deal, postponing an overhaul of the tax code until next year.")


But, just in case the Gang of Six plan remains in play, let's discuss what it could mean to your taxes. (On Wednesday, we looked at its proposed changes to Social Security and Medicare.) Warning: We're short on details here because the official plan outline (.pdf file), quite frankly, doesn't have many.

Post continues after video.

Fewer tax brackets. The plan proposes three (we now have six) and would lower the top rate -- and the corporate tax rate -- from 35% to a range of 23% to 29%. That would be great news for rich folks. "That could provide a windfall for wealthy taxpayers because the 35% tax bracket currently applies to taxable income above $379,150," said The Associated Press.


Mortgage interest. Upper-income folks might get a lower tax rate overall but they'd likely lose some of this popular deduction, which disproportionately provides tax relief for the well-to-do. (Want proof? Read this column at The New York Times.)


The details would be left to a Senate committee to hash out. MIT economist William Wheaton made this prediction to NPR:

Well, I suspect that the proposal most likely to emerge out of the Senate committee is one where the interest on second homes is eliminated, one where the total amount of mortgage debt will be capped at a lower level than the $1 million that it's currently capped at, and, rather than having an interest deduction where the deduction ranges from 15% all the way up to 38% for very wealthy Americans, will be a constant 10, 12 or 15% in the form of a tax credit.

Charitable contributions. Again, no details. However, Suzanne Perry notes at The Chronicle of Philanthropy that the president's debt commission "called for replacing the charitable deduction with a 12% tax credit. However, it would be available only for amounts donated beyond 2% of the taxpayer's adjusted gross income."


Health insurance. The health insurance benefit you get through work isn't taxed now, but it could be under this plan. (So-called Cadillac health care plans will be taxed, beginning in 2018, as part of health care reform.) Gerald McEntee, head of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, said the Gang of Six plan "would destabilize employer-sponsored health care coverage for 160 million Americans."


Retirement savings. I don't know about you, but not paying taxes now on the money I put in an IRA and solo 401k is a huge incentive to save for retirement. Brian H. Graff, executive director of the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries, commented: "Raising short-term revenues by reducing the tax deferral incentives created to provide retirement security for millions of American workers and retirees is not in the long-term interest of American workers or their children."


Repeal of the alternative minimum tax, commonly called the AMT. About 20 million Americans who would otherwise have to pay this tax already get a pass every year from Congress, so that won't make much difference to folks.  


Good news for families: The earned income tax credit and the child tax credit would be retained in some form or fashion.


All told, that's an estimated $1 trillion in extra revenue over 10 years, but also a tax break of $1.5 trillion, according to the Gang of Six. Confused? This Washington Post column explains how they can make that claim.)


Some think their numbers are way off. Marc A. Thiessen opined in The Washington Post that the Gang of Six plan would actually raise taxes by $3 billion over 10 years. He wrote:

Current law assumes that, over the next decade, taxes will go up by some $4.5 trillion because of tax cut expirations. The Gang of Six reduces this $4.5 trillion tax increase by $1.5 trillion -- and calls it a tax cut. But the practical result is really a $3 trillion tax increase over what Americans pay today.

More on MSN Money:

Jul 21, 2011 9:16PM

Why not privatize social security?  First, remove the cap of $106,800 to allow for more funds to be saved for retirement.  Second, take the 7.2% that is paid to FICA and put that money in to a personal retirement account that has a selection of funds just like a 401(k) plan.   (The personal retirement account would only allow distributions only at retirement age or due to a permanent disability.)  If participation in a 401(k) plan is required and the employer match of 4% then a person would be saving 15.2% for retirement which is more than most people save now.  (7.2% personal retirement account, 4% 401(k) account and 4% employer match)


For the 7.2% the employer’s pays social security for each employee.  That amount would be used to fund social security for people who won’t have enough time in a private retirement account or disable.   Since the cap would be removed the percentage employers pay can be adjusted lower for higher income individuals.    Now, only those individuals who don’t have enough savings in their retirement accounts or disabled individuals would quality for social security.  So, if you have over two million in retirement accounts you wouldn’t quality for social security. 


Granted there would need to be a lot more thought put in to this before it becomes a reality but overall it should be doable. 

Jul 23, 2011 8:01PM
The AMT needs to be reformed, not eliminated. Remember that the original intent of the AMT was to prevent the wealthy from paying little to no tax. In addition, this plan will significantly reduce the highest income tax brackets (even more than the Bush tax cuts did), while negatively impacting middle- and upper-middle-income tax advantages relative to employer-provided health benefits, mortgage interest deductions, etc.

My take is that this plan will wind up keeping taxes for the poor and lower-middle classes at roughly their existing rates, and perhaps slightly reduce them. Those with incomes above the median but below the upper class will likely pay significantly more, since this group is most impacted by the deductions targeted for reduction/elimination. Those with very high incomes will be laughing all the way to the bank, due to the large reductions in the top income tax rates and the complete elimination of the AMT.

I honestly don't mind paying a higher percentage in taxes than someone making half my income, but if my tax burden goes up while the average person making 10X my income sees a reduction, I will oppose EVERY incumbent that voted for this plan (regardless of party) and will encourage others to do the same.
Jul 22, 2011 1:33PM
Why not privatize social security?

" I now send you out as sheep amongst the wolves."


@Just a thought-


 You give a perfect answer for a perfect world.

Jul 24, 2011 11:31AM

Social Security and Medicare are separate accounts and shouldn't be on the agenda with the federal budget. and its deficit.  


Social Security  as a whole is in the black....    The Federal government has no right to use this money for anything but for its intended purpose.


I'd like to see the Media place importance of getting this information out to our elder population.

Jul 22, 2011 6:49AM
The mortgage interest deduction is a scam anyway!  Pay it off ASAP!  Do you REALLY want to give 1000's of dollars in interest to get only PART of it back at tax time?!?!?!
Jul 21, 2011 11:37PM

Are you guys on Facebook?   They just posted the following question on MSN Money's wall: 


Please tell us: would you be ok losing some of your mortgage interest tax deduction in order to help pay down the deficit?

Jul 22, 2011 7:16AM
Mortgage intetest deduction is effectively a subsidy for the financial industry - get rid of it.  Keep deductiblity of charitable giving.  We want to encourage this.  One reason the government wants this one out is they want the populace dependent on the government, and charitable giving competes with this goal.
Jul 21, 2011 9:52PM
I get paid mostly in stocks and pay around 3% taxes after all the loopholes my accountants get me.  I got a room full of them.  This sounds great to me, I might be able to get that down to 2% now - let the middle class pick up the tab.  I'm the one who creates jobs in China and Mexico for God's sake.  How you gonna get a job without me?  Geez you think just because you worked your whole life you're entitled to something.  You gotta have the right last name like me to be entitled folks. 
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