Rep. Charlie Rangel (D., N.Y.) introduced what he calls the "mother of all tax reforms" legislation in Congress today --
the Tax Reduction and Reform Act of 2007 -- with tax implications in the trillions of dollars. It's the biggest tax reform since 1986.
It offers a tax cut for most Americans by increasing the standard deduction and doing away with the ever-burdensome alternative minimum tax (AMT).
But conservatives like Rep. John Boehner (R., Ohio) charge that it's the "mother of all tax hikes." Who would the real winners and losers be if the proposed legislation passed?
The legislation cuts taxes for a variety of groups. The two critical reforms in the bill are ending the AMT and providing a hefty reduction in the corporate tax rate.
The AMT, which was created in 1969, was intended to ensure that the mega-wealthy were not able to dodge paying taxes, by enforcing a minimum level of taxation. There was one small problem. The legislation didn't include indexing for inflation, and as many as 23 million Americans will pay the AMT this year alone.
Corporate America and tax advocates have been calling for lower corporate taxes to increase competitiveness with other industrialized nations. The current corporate rate stands at 35%. The effective rate is lower for some corporations after years of lobbying and the creation of loopholes. The proposed legislation would eliminate loopholes and lower the rate across the board to 30.5%.
Other notable tax cuts included in the legislation are increases in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the standard deduction and the child tax credit. Small businesses would continue to benefit from the enhanced expensing rules, which would be made permanent. Almost 91 million Americans will receive cuts.
A wide variety of tax rules also will be extended for a one-year period, including, notably, R&D credit, deduction of state and general sales tax and a special 15-year straight-line cost restaurant improvement.
Rangel said of the reform:"It has been more than 21 years since Congress and the administration rolled up their sleeves to discuss tax reform. ... The package I proposed today is entirely revenue-neutral to ensure that the tax cuts we provide are not paid for by future generations or through reckless borrowing as has been the case in recent years."
If the tax cuts are revenue neutral, there must be higher taxes out there for someone. Who will face higher taxes?
Look out hedge fund and private-equity fund managers. The plan will tax carried interest as ordinary income, not at the 15% capital gains rate. It will also close any loopholes that defer income paid through offshore hedge funds.
Other high-income earners would not receive relief. The legislation would cap the relief individuals and families could get from the repeal of the AMT at approximately $250,000. Earners above the cap would pay a surtax of 4.6%. Furthermore, limitations would be placed on itemized deductions and the legislation would phase out other personal exemptions.
The plan will take considerable time to get through Congress, and likely won't be considered until next year. To address AMT, Rangel introduced a temporary measure that might be voted on sooner.
Republicans blasted the plan. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson responded for the Bush Administration: "As our economy grapples with a housing downturn, the last thing we need is a tax increase. I urge the Congress to take up the AMT patch as quickly as possible."
Not only did Congressional Republicans call it the "mother of all tax hikes," but they went on to say "it will raise taxes for every American taxpayer, kill American jobs, punish small business and family farmers."
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, commented, "If Rangel wants to spend more money on nontaxpayers, that's one thing; just don't raise money on taxpayers to pay for it." He went on to describe the plan as a "secret spending plan."
Many of these attacks are based on the fact that the plan would not renew the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. Republicans believe the tax cuts have provided growth and increased tax revenue. But
I have argued recently that this is not what happened. The Bush tax cuts resulted in a dramatic immediate loss of revenue. The economy -- built on big borrowing -- did wind up growing and has merely returned to revenue-growth trends you would expect from an expanding economy.
Rangel's bill represents the opening salvo in the debate on tax reform. While the outcome remains unclear, it couldn't come at a better time as the AMT menaces more Americans, consumers cry for relief and business looks to improve its competitive ability in a global economy.