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Kerry's Take on Taxes

President Bush may not have been AWOL during his National Guard stint during the Vietnam War, but likely Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry's tax plan could be described as missing in action.

With the Massachusetts senator all but assured of the Democratic presidential nomination, independent and Democrat voters have placed their faith in a man who has offered little in the way of specifics about his plans for tax and fiscal policy.

That's not to say that Kerry's reticence on detailing fiscal matters should sound any alarms. His position, while vague, has been stated often enough: He advocates repealing President Bush's tax cuts that help the wealthy, while keeping those that benefit the middle class.

"Middle class" -- an amorphous term at best -- was loosely defined by President Bill Clinton as families with less than $150,000 in adjusted gross income. Sen. Kerry hasn't been specific about what qualifies as "wealthy."

Most Washington observers agree that Kerry will almost certainly target the top income tax bracket, advocating a return to the rate to 39.6%. The top income bracket is 35% for 2004, and it applies only to taxable income (that's the amount remaining after all exemptions and deductions have been taken) in excess of $319,100 for both singles and married couples.

Sen. Kerry has largely avoided any mention of the reduced rate on long-term capital gains and certain stock dividends, leaving many to assume that he wouldn't touch these rates, which are due to expire Jan. 1, 2009.

"I suspect he'll raise the top tax rate back to 39.6%," says Chris Edwards, director of fiscal policy for the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. "It's ambiguous what he'd do with capital gains and dividend taxes. The stock market's rise has largely been attributed to those tax cuts. Repealing those taxes could mean the market takes a hit -- a risk Kerry probably isn't willing to take."

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