The Center's work on 'Taxes and the Economy' Issues


New York Times Warns Against “Dynamic Scoring”

December 8, 2014 at 12:06 pm

A New York Times editorial this weekend raised several red flags about so-called “dynamic scoring” — that is, including estimates of the macroeconomic effects of policy changes in official cost estimates for tax and spending legislation.  We strongly agree.  Our recent paper making the case against dynamic scoring, and a short summary we released today, explain that:

  • Current budget estimates aren’t “static.” The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) incorporate in their cost estimates many changes in individuals’ and companies’ behavior in response to proposed changes in tax rates and other policies.
  • Dynamic estimates are highly uncertain. Different models and assumptions produce widely varying estimates of how policy changes would affect the overall economy.  Some models’ results depend on assumptions about how future Congresses will reduce deficits.  And the models all have significant gaps.
  • Dynamic estimates are prone to manipulation. Because of this uncertainty, congressional leaders will likely cherry-pick the model and assumptions that give the most favorable estimates.  That’s exactly what House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp did in touting the highest estimates of economic and revenue growth for his tax reform proposal — estimates more than ten times greater than JCT’s lowest ones.  (See figure.)
  • CBO did not use dynamic scoring for the 2013 Senate immigration bill. Some members of Congress claim, incorrectly, that CBO used dynamic scoring to estimate the bill’s budgetary effects.  CBO’s official cost estimate took account of the bill’s direct effect on the U.S. population and labor force.  But it did not include estimates of the bill’s more speculative and uncertain effects on the economy, such as its effects on investment and productivity.

You can follow me on Twitter at @PaulNVandeWater and my co-author Chye-Ching Huang at @dashching.

“Tax Extenders” Package Even Worse Than First Appeared

December 1, 2014 at 3:34 pm

12-1-14taxWe’ve explained that the package that emerged last week to permanently extend several temporary tax breaks (“tax extenders”) and enlarge some of them would raise deficits — thereby putting more pressure on domestic programs for cost-saving cuts — while favoring large corporations and leaving out millions of working families. Following a presidential veto threat, the package now appears dead; but as lawmakers continue to consider options for what to do about the extenders, they should recognize another serious flaw in that package: nearly a quarter of its roughly $400 billion cost would have come from expanding tax cuts for businesses, not just extending them (see chart).

In particular, the package doubled the tax credit for research and experimentation, raising its ten-year cost from $75 billion to $151 billion. Making this and other extenders permanent without paying for them would be fiscally irresponsible; expanding some of them while doing so would be even more egregious.

Our report detailed the package’s main flaws:

  • It would have given back more than half of the revenue raised by the 2012 “fiscal cliff” legislation. If it had become law, more than 85 percent of the deficit reduction achieved since 2010 would have come from budget cuts rather than new revenues.
  • Congressional Republicans insist that future congressional budget plans balance the budget in ten years with no new revenues, cuts in Social Security benefits for current retirees, or defense cuts. Such a plan would already demand deep cuts in important areas; the extenders package would require even deeper cuts. As incoming House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) said recently, “anything that’s made permanent now makes it more difficult to get to [budget] balance.”
  • While permanently extending and expanding tax benefits mostly for businesses, the package failed to extend temporary tax provisions for low-income working families with children. Those provisions — in the Earned Income Tax Credit and the low-income piece of the Child Tax Credit — lift more than 16 million people out of poverty or closer to the poverty line each year, including nearly 8 million children. Their omission would make it less likely they will continue beyond 2017, when they are slated to expire.
  • If policymakers make a number of extenders permanent now, without paying for them, they won’t have to offset the cost of making them permanent as part of tax reform. That would enable them to produce a tax reform bill that cuts the top tax rate more deeply, curbs fewer special-interest tax breaks, or both — and yet still is labeled “revenue neutral.”

“Dynamic” Estimates Are Highly Uncertain, Subject to Manipulation

November 17, 2014 at 5:10 pm

An American Action Forum event today to promote “dynamic scoring” for tax and spending legislation unintentionally illustrates what Chye-Ching Huang and I explain in a newly updated paper:  estimates of the macroeconomic effects of policy changes — which is what dynamic scoring would include — are highly uncertain and subject to manipulation, so they shouldn’t be part of official cost estimates.

In reasonably balanced remarks, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said that “we should not expect dynamic scoring to produce outsized miracles from either the supply side or the demand side.”

But Tax Foundation President Scott Hodge, in giving his organization’s estimates of the effects of several tax proposals, promised just such miracles.  According to Hodge, cutting the corporate income tax rate or allowing full expensing of investments (that is, allowing firms to deduct the investments’ full cost from their taxable income up front, rather than depreciating it over the investments’ lifetime) would more than pay for itself by boosting economic growth and, in turn, tax revenues.

That’s highly implausible.  But it shows how advocates can manipulate assumptions or cherry-pick dynamic-scoring estimates to buttress their agenda.  Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) did the same thing when he cited only the most optimistic of many “dynamic” estimates in touting the benefits of his tax reform proposal, as our paper and the graph below show.

Latest CRS Findings Refute Scare Talk About Medical Device Tax

November 6, 2014 at 12:51 pm

With congressional Republicans reportedly planning a renewed push to repeal the medical device tax, a Congressional Research Service report updated this week is especially notable.  It confirms what we’ve been saying for some time:  The 2.3-percent excise tax, which will raise $26 billion over the next decade to help pay for health reform, has only a very limited economic impact, contrary to the dire predictions of industry lobbyists.

  • “The effect on the price of health care,” CRS says, “will most likely be negligible because of the small size of the tax and small share of health care spending attributable to medical devices.” (page ii)
  • “The drop in U.S. output and jobs for medical device producers due to the tax is relatively small, probably no more than 0.2%.” (page 7)
  • “It is unlikely that there will be significant consequences for innovation and for small and mid-sized firms.” (page 8)
  • “The tax should have no effect on production location decisions, since both domestically manufactured and imported medical devices are subject to the excise tax.” (pages 18-19)

In short, the scare talk about the medical device tax doesn’t square with reality.  Moreover, proponents of repeal need to explain how they would replace the billions in lost revenue.

Considering Tax Reform? Here’s a Must-Read

October 2, 2014 at 1:49 pm

With leading members of both parties placing tax reform high on the agenda for next year, a  new paper by William B. Gale, Co-Director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center (TPC), and Andrew Samwick, a Dartmouth College professor and former Chief Economist for President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, is a must read.  They review the evidence about how income taxes affect economic growth and explain:

The argument that income tax cuts raise growth is repeated so often that it is sometimes taken as gospel.  However, theory, evidence, and simulation studies tell a different and more complicated story.

Gale and Samwick highlight some often-overlooked factors about how tax changes affect growth, including:

Tax changes affect the budget.  As Gale and Samwick note, research shows that large, unfinanced tax cuts can hurt growth because the increase in deficits creates a drag on national savings and investment that outweighs any positive incentive effects.  Conversely, in the face of increasing long-run deficits, revenue increases could boost growth.

Scaling back inefficient tax subsidies can promote growth.  Howard Gleckman, a TPC fellow and moderator of a discussion at the TPC event releasing Gale and Samwick’s paper in which I participated, noted that our panel:

[G]enerally agreed that the real benefit [of tax reform] likely comes from scaling back or even eliminating inefficient tax preferences, rather than reducing rates. Those changes make it more likely that people will allocate resources to maximize their economic benefit, rather than to maximize their tax savings.  If that shift is big enough, it could increase the overall size of the economy.

We could use the revenues generated by such base broadening to reduce long-run deficits, which would boost growth over the long run. (As we repeatedly emphasize, however, getting the economy back to full employment should be a greater priority than deficit reduction.)