The Center's work on 'Other Issues' Issues


House GOP Follows Ryan Anti-Poverty Plan With Pro-Poverty Legislation

July 25, 2014 at 11:12 am

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) extolled the anti-poverty effects of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and, in his new poverty proposal, wisely proposed expanding it for childless adults (including non-custodial parents).  The praise that Chairman Ryan correctly gave the EITC also applies to the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC).  Both of these essential tax credits encourage work, expand opportunity, and reduce poverty.

Today, however, House Republicans are considering on the House floor permanent CTC legislation — a bill for which Rep. Ryan voted as a Ways and Means Committee member — that would lead to more poverty, not less.  The bill permanently alters the CTC by extending it higher up the income scale so that more families with six-figure incomes can benefit from it, while failing to make permanent a key CTC improvement from 2009 for working-poor and near-poor families that’s slated to expire at the end of 2017.  Census data show that letting the CTC improvement for low-income working families expire after 2017 would push 12 million people — including 6 million children — into or deeper into poverty (see chart).

As we have explained, the House bill raises the income levels at which the CTC begins to phase out and indexes those thresholds to inflation.  Couples with two children making between $150,000 and $205,000 would become newly eligible for the credit; a family making $160,000, for example, would receive a new tax cut of $2,200 in 2018.  But because the bill fails to make permanent the 2009 reduction in the CTC’s earnings threshold after 2017, a single mother with two children who works full time throughout the year at the minimum wage and earns $14,500 would lose her entire CTC of $1,725 in 2018.

The bill also indexes the current maximum credit of $1,000 per child to inflation, but that would not help most working families with low or moderate incomes because it benefits only those with incomes high enough to receive the maximum credit.  If the credit’s $3,000 earnings threshold (the level of family earnings at which the credit starts to phase in) is allowed to expire at the end of 2017, the threshold will nearly quintuple — and families making less than about $14,500 will lose their CTC altogether.  In addition, many working families with incomes somewhat above $14,500 will have their CTC cut substantially and no longer receive the maximum credit, making the inflation adjustment meaningless for them.  Under the House bill, indexing would not benefit a family with two children in 2018 until the family has earnings of at least $28,050 — nearly double full-time work at the minimum wage.

Chairman Ryan’s colleagues should consider the poverty-fighting effects of tax credits such as the CTC for low-income working families.  Then they should reverse course and put these families’ needs first, rather than last.

Plug the Inversion Loophole Now

July 22, 2014 at 2:53 pm

The New York Times’ latest “Room for Debate” feature asks how the United States can stop corporations from moving their headquarters overseas — known as corporate “inversions” — to avoid taxes.  In my contribution, I explain that inversions are a high-profile part of the problem that multinationals’ profits aren’t taxed anywhere, because tax rules let companies claim they earned the profits in in zero- or low-tax havens.

I point out that Pfizer — whose inversion plans made recent headlines — could keep billions in profits permanently untaxed by inverting.  Ed Kleinbard, USC law professor and former staff director for Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, explains in detail in a new Wall Street Journal piece how companies can lower their tax bills through an inversion.

In the Times, I recommend swift, targeted anti-inversion legislation:

Slashing U.S. corporate taxes won’t solve an inversions problem created by profits that already aren’t taxed. Instead, U.S. policymakers should first swiftly enact targeted anti-inversion legislation to protect the U.S. tax base.

That’s why Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden should be applauded for his pledge today (during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on inversions and international tax reform) to immediately try to stop U.S. firms from incorporating overseas for tax purposes.  “Let’s work together to immediately cool down the inversion fever … The inversion loophole needs to be plugged now,” Wyden said.

Then, any eventual corporate tax reform could raise revenue by eliminating inefficient business tax breaks for both domestic and foreign profits and reducing opportunities and incentives for corporations to engage in international tax avoidance, and level the playing field between domestic and multinational companies, as we’ve previously explained.

Click here to read the full “Room for Debate” piece.

House Should Reject Backwards Child Tax Credit Bill

July 18, 2014 at 2:11 pm

The full House next week will consider the Ways and Means Committee’s recently passed Child Tax Credit (CTC) bill.  A recent Tax Policy Center (TPC) analysis confirms our previous critical assessments of the proposal, finding that it would make many relatively affluent people better off while making low-income working families poorer.

As we explained, the bill makes three main policy decisions that, taken together, constitute poor policy:

  1. It extends the Child Tax Credit higher up the income scale — on a permanent basis — so more families with six-figure incomes will benefit.  The bill raises the income levels at which the CTC begins to phase out.  (It also indexes those thresholds to inflation.)  Couples with two children making between $150,000 and $205,000 would become newly eligible for the credit; a family making $150,000 a year would receive a new tax cut of $2,200 in 2018. 
  2. It fails to make permanent a key CTC provision for working-poor families that will expire in 2017 unless Congress acts.  The provision, which was enacted in 2009, made more working-poor families eligible for the CTC and enlarged it for other working-poor families who had been receiving only a partial credit, by phasing in the credit as a family’s earnings rose above $3,000.  If this low-income provision expires on schedule — as the Ways and Means bill allows — a single mother with two children who works full time throughout the year at the minimum wage and earns $14,500 would lose $1,725 in 2018, as her CTC would be eliminated. 
  3. It indexes the current maximum credit of $1,000 per child to inflation.  This provision benefits only those with incomes high enough to receive the maximum credit.  If the low-income provision is allowed to expire in 2017, millions of working-poor families would either lose their CTC altogether or have their CTC cut and no longer receive the maximum credit, which would make the inflation adjustment meaningless for them.  Under the bill, indexing wouldn’t benefit a family with two children in 2018 until it has earnings of at least $28,050 — nearly double what full-time minimum-wage work pays an individual, as we have explained. 

TPC’s analysis illustrates how the combined effects of these policy decisions harm low-income families while benefiting many with higher incomes.  As the first chart below shows, families with children that have incomes between $100,000 and $200,000 would gain, on average, nearly $550 apiece in 2018, while families with incomes below $40,000 would lose, on average.

The Ways and Means bill’s effects on households’ after-tax incomes are also striking.  As the next chart below shows, households earning less than $20,000 in 2018 would face, on average, a drop in their after-tax income of more than 3 percent while those with incomes between $100,000 and $200,000 would get a boost in their after-tax earnings.

TPC’s analysis underscores the downsides of the Ways and Means bill for low-income working families.  These are parents who work for low or modest wages as cashiers, waitresses, home health aides, and day laborers; they clean office buildings or perform other low-paid work.  Policymakers should reverse course and put these families’ needs first, rather than last, when the full House considers the bill.

Chairman Camp’s Troubling Stand on Tax Compliance

July 18, 2014 at 9:00 am

The House voted this week to wipe out one quarter of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) enforcement budget.  This cut, which would dramatically worsen the hit that the IRS budget has taken since 2010, will further undermine the IRS’s ability to collect taxes that are owed. As we’ve described, this helps tax evaders and hurts honest taxpayers, and ultimately increases the deficit.

A less-noticed attack on tax compliance came last week from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), who characterized as tax increases — and therefore unacceptable — provisions in the Senate highway funding bill that are designed to better enable the IRS to enforce tax laws already on the books.

In a press release, Chairman Camp said:

I do not support, and the House will not support, billions of dollars in higher taxes to pay for more spending.  And, I certainly do not support permanent tax increases to pay for just 10 months of highway programs.  Furthermore, it is inconceivable that the House would, as the Senate proposes to do, grant the IRS additional authority to audit and investigate taxpayers simply so Washington can spend more money.

The so-called “permanent tax increases” that Camp condemned include ensuring adequate disclosure of mortgage transactions and clarifying what constitutes a “substantial omission of income” on a tax return.  They are tax compliance provisions, meant to enable the IRS to collect the revenues that taxpayers owe.

As Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) told Politico, “these are taxes owed” and “this is enforcing existing law.”  Underscoring the bipartisan nature of this interpretation of the Senate bill, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) added “those are taxes that are owed, and to me, that’s simply a function of making sure that we’re getting paid.”

Camp’s attack was particularly stunning, coming from the chairman of the very committee that writes the nation’s tax laws.  He deemed it “inconceivable” that the House would give the IRS the ability to enforce the tax laws — one of its core functions.  In fact, it should be inconceivable that Congress does not routinely make modest technical adjustments to ensure that people pay taxes as the law intends.  Honest taxpayers deserve no less.

Camp’s position, coupled with the House action to slash the IRS enforcement budget, reflect a fundamental shift in the tax debate, from policymakers supporting appropriate enforcement of the nation’s tax laws to actively seeking to undermine what should be bipartisan compliance efforts.

House GOP’s IRS Budget Cuts: A Field Day for Tax Cheats

July 15, 2014 at 4:40 pm

The IRS has absorbed big cuts in recent years that have weakened enforcement and damaged taxpayer service.  The House Appropriations Committee passed a 2015 IRS budget that would cut the IRS even deeper.  But that wasn’t good enough for the full House, based on the cutting frenzy on the House floor over the last day.

The House approved a series of Republican amendments that, taken together with the cuts in the underlying bill, would shrink the IRS’s enforcement budget in 2015 by more than $1.2 billion relative to 2014 funding.  Under the House bill as it now stands, one-quarter of the IRS’s enforcement budget from this year would be gone.

The IRS’ core function is to collect revenue.  But these amendments would further stifle its ability to do that.  In its current form, the theme of the IRS funding bill seems to be:  If you’re an honest taxpayer, don’t call us because we won’t have the resources to answer the phone.  And if you’re a tax cheat, don’t worry because we won’t have the resources to call you.  As Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the ranking member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the IRS, put it, “this will prevent the IRS from going after tax cheats… and from helping those who are attempting to obey the law.”

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who advanced a House-passed amendment to cut $353 million from IRS enforcement, said, “I am ecstatic that the House of Representatives supported my efforts today to pass a vitally important amendment which will save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars…”

Actually, his amendment will do exactly the opposite.  When tax cheats get a pass, the deficit rises.  When, instead, Congress provides more money for enforcement, revenues rise and the deficit falls.

The House also approved an amendment by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) to cut enforcement another $788 million.

In total, the House Appropriations bill when combined with the Gosar, Huizenga, and other amendments cuts IRS enforcement more than $1.2 billion below this year’s $5 billion level — and cuts the total IRS budget by $1.5 billion, on top of deep cuts that Congress has enacted to the IRS budget since 2010.  Under the House bill as amended, total IRS funding in 2015 would be $9.8 billion, which is 19 percent below the 2010 level or 27 percent lower when adjusted for inflation (see chart below).

The cuts of earlier years have already wreaked serious damage on the IRS, as we recently explained:

  • ​The IRS has about 10,400 (11 percent) fewer employees than in 2010, even as its workload has grown.  For instance, the number of individual income tax returns has grown by an average of 1.5 million each year over the past decade.
  • ​The number of IRS staff devoted to enforcing tax laws has dropped by 15 percent since 2010.  As a result, the IRS is conducting fewer audits.  The annual audit rate for individual taxpayers is now below 1 percent, the lowest since 2006, and revenue collected through IRS enforcement actions has fallen by more than $4 billion over the past four years.  Weakening IRS enforcement ultimately hurts the entire budget:  every additional dollar invested in IRS tax enforcement activities from current levels yields $6 in increased revenue, the Treasury Department reports.
  • Taxpayer services have worsened.  For example, in 2013, a typical caller to the IRS waited about 18 minutes for an IRS representative to get on the line, and about 40 percent of calls were never answered.

The Administration was right to threaten to veto the House bill even before these irresponsible amendments.  When it considers IRS funding, the Senate should take a stronger stand for honest taxpayers by rejecting all cuts and giving the IRS the resources it needs to do its job.  The President should accept no less.