The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Community News Network

November 29, 2012

Why vague plans to limit tax breaks may soon die

As negotiations over the fiscal cliff get down to details, they will become more arduous — something that financial markets seem to be ignoring. The superficial appeal of proposals to limit tax expenditures, for example, will fade as the details become clearer.

Whether the negotiators can navigate the obstacles and still get a deal done before Dec. 31 remains an open question. Automatic tax increases and spending cuts are scheduled to take effect at the beginning of January.

On their face, proposals to raise revenue by limiting tax breaks enjoy unusual bipartisan support — at least when they are described generically as "broadening the tax base and eliminating loopholes." Enacting legislation, though, requires much more than such platitudes, and therein lies the political difficulty.

Take the recent proposal to limit itemized deductions to a maximum of $50,000 a year. According to the Tax Policy Center, that would raise more than $700 billion over the coming decade, almost as much as the marginal-rate increases the Barack Obama administration is proposing for high-income taxpayers. Because median household income is also about $50,000, that level of allowable deductions strikes most people as extraordinarily generous, adding to its luster.

Perhaps more important, the proposal doesn't specify which deductions would be limited, but rather leaves that up to the individual. It thus reflects the new fundamental law of political economy: The vaguer the proposal, the better.

Let's take a closer look at the effects of such a limit, though. In 2009, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service, taxpayers who itemized their deductions and had incomes of more than $200,000 had average deductions of $50,000 or more. For those with $200,000 to $500,000 in income, average deductions amounted to more than $51,000; from $500,000 to $1 million in income, the average was more than $100,000. At higher incomes, the averages rose further.

That households with incomes of more than $200,000 would be disproportionately affected by the deduction limit is neither surprising nor necessarily troublesome. Here comes the problem. In 2009, those taxpayers deducted more than $300 billion, 90 percent of which came from just three categories: taxes paid (mostly state and local taxes), home-mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

Text Only
Community News Network
  • VIDEO: Boston bomb scare defendant appears in court

    The man accused of carrying a backpack containing a rice cooker near the Boston Marathon finish line on the anniversary of the bombings was arraigned Wednesday. He's being held on $100,000 bail.

    April 17, 2014

  • Consumer spending on health care jumps as Affordable Care Act takes hold

    Nancy Beigel has known since September that she would need hernia surgery. She couldn't afford it on her $11,000 yearly income until she became eligible for Medicaid in January through President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    April 17, 2014

  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 17, 2014

  • Raw oysters spike U.S. rise in bacterial infections, CDC reports

    Raw oysters, so good with hot sauce, increasingly can carry something even more unsettling to the stomach: A bacteria linked to vomiting, diarrhea and pain.

    April 17, 2014

  • To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

    Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

    April 16, 2014

  • Doctors to rate cost effectiveness of expensive cancer drugs

    The world's largest organization of cancer doctors plans to rate the cost effectiveness of expensive oncology drugs, and will urge physicians to use the ratings to discuss the costs with their patients.

    April 16, 2014

  • Low blood-sugar levels make for grousing spouses

    Husbands and wives reported being most unhappy with their spouses when their blood-sugar levels were lowest, usually at night, according to research released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Missing a meal, dieting or just being hungry may be the reason, researchers said.

    April 16, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • portraitoflotte.jpg VIDEO: From infant to teen in four minutes

    Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester’s time lapse video of his daughter, Lotte — created by filming her every week from her birth until she turned 14 — has become a viral sensation.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 15, 2014