Sunday, August 24, 2008

Economic Plans: What are the candidates really proposing?

This week's New York Times Sunday Magazine contains an excellent article on Barack Obama's economic philosophy and plans, by David Leonhardt. It refers to a study of the Obama and McCain tax proposals by the Tax Policy Center (TPC), a non-partisan joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute. The Times article is a great read, and I recommend it; the Tax Policy Center's study provides more detail (in particular, breakdowns of tax impact by quintiles, which I find far more useful than the usually-stated means).

Some interesting factoids:

The tax rates for individuals earning $5m/year (in current, inflation-adjusted dollars) have been:

  • 1980: %60
  • 1988 (end of the Reagan presidency): %35
  • 1990s (Clinton era): %40
  • current (GW Bush): %34
Both Obama and McCain would cut taxes for bottom 80% of population (those earning $118,000 or less). McCain's cuts would average $200/year for this group; Obama's would average $900. But the quintiles for Obama's plan are far more interesting than the single number:

QuintileTop Income for Quintile$ Change in Federal Tax PaidAverage Federal Tax Rate

The detail for the top 20% is interesting, too.

PercentileTop Income for Quintile$ Change in Federal Tax PaidAverage Federal Tax Rate
Top 1 Percent$2,832,449+114,23834.1%
Top 0.1 PercentTop+650,93837.5%

Obama's plan is clearly targeted at cutting taxes for middle-income Americans, while fairly dramatically raising taxes on the very wealthiest Americans (but not back to even the top rates of the Clinton administration).

McCain's plan cuts taxes for everyone, including the wealthiest. Not surprisingly, this is reflected in projected increases in the national debt, as described in the TPC's summary:
Compared to current law, TPC estimates the Obama plan would cut taxes by $2.9 trillion from 2009-2018. McCain would reduce taxes by nearly $4.2 trillion. These projections assume the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts expire in 2010 and that the Alternative Minimum Tax is fully effective.

So who's the fiscal conservative here?

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