The Democrats made several key concessions yesterday in the Fiscal Cliff negotiations.As a result, the two sides are absurdly close together. If we don’t get a deal at this point, the entire country will be justified in being outraged.
Here’s the Democrats’ latest offer, as reported by Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane of the Washington Post:
* The Democrats agreed to raise the income threshold for tax increases to $450,000 a year (couples) from the prior $250,000. The Republicans are insisting on $550,000 threshold. This is a massive tax cut for almost the entire country relative to the rates that will otherwise take effect on January 1. (So agree on $500,000 already and call it a day.)
* However, to the Republicans’ chagrin, the Democrats insist on raising capital gains and dividend taxes to 20% on households over $250,000 and reducing some of the allowable deductions. Importantly, this, too, is a massive tax cut relative to the scheduled changes, which would boost dividend taxes to 40% on incomes over $250,000.
* The Democrats conceded on the estate tax: They’ll keep the threshold for taxable estates at $5 million, with a 35% rate over that level. This, again, is a massive tax cut over current law, in which the threshold will drop to $1 million with a much higher rate.
* The Democrats’ offer would permanently protect middle-class households from the Alternative Minimum Tax. No details on how this would work.
* On the spending side, the Democrats’ offer would delay the “sequester” (automatic spending cuts) until 2015. This would cost an estimated $200 billion. But it would avoid the cuts to the military budget that the Republicans are so desperate to avoid.
* The Democrats would also extend unemployment benefits for a year, extend farm subsidies for a year, and avoid a 27% cut in Medicare payments to doctors. The Republicans say they want offsets to these with spending cuts.
When you boil all that down, the two sides are absurdly close.
The Republicans say they want current spending cuts to offset the postponement of the sequester spending cuts, but the Republicans do not appear to have proposed anything in particular. Also, the postponement will only cost $200 billion over two years, which is not much on a government budget of $4 trillion a year. And the postponement of the cuts will avoid a shock to the weak economy, which will likely help on the tax revenue side.
On the tax side, the country will be getting a massive tax cut over the new taxes that will take effect on January 1. The current low income and investment tax rates for 98% of the country would be extended, and the income tax rates would be extended on even more households. The fact that the two sides are still haggling over whether the threshold for a modest income tax increase should be $450,000 or $550,000 is almost comical.
(At some point, taxes are going to have to rise modestly for everyone. If it’s this hard to raise taxes even on the richest 1% of the country, imagine what the fight will be like when this increase will hit all Americans.)
It’s worth noting that this proposed deal would be good for the economy, especially relative to the Fiscal Cliff. The postponement of most of the tax hikes and spending increases would preserve the status quo, avoiding the austerity shock that will otherwise hit growth. The deal would likely boost the deficit over the next two years, but, again, neither side is arguing that the Fiscal Cliff would be preferable to a deal.