Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

President’s Debt Commission – The Final Report (Part 2)

The Debt Commission Report, formally The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, has been subject to a lot of derision on the left.  It has been seen as a waste of time at best, or an attack on Democratic core principles at the worst.

This is the second installment looking section by section of the report.

Here’s the link to the first installment:…

Also, here is the link to the actual report:


Now on to the report:

Tax Reform

Starts with the obvious:

America’s tax code is broken and must be reformed.

Here’s a tidbit for those who said health care isn’t mentioned:

our current code drives up health care costs and provides special treatment to special interests.

Basically, the beginning part of this section talks about how our taxes are too high.  I guess they were reaching out to the Tea Party crowd, but I disagree.  I agree with the commission that our tax system is far too complex and should be reformed.

Here’s their basic plan:

Lower rates, broaden the base, and cut spending in the tax code. The current tax code is riddled with $1.1 trillion of tax expenditures: backdoor spending hidden in the tax code. Tax reform must reduce the size and number of these tax expenditures and lower marginal tax rates for individuals and corporations – thereby simplifying the code, improving fairness, reducing the tax gap, and spurring economic growth. Simplifying the code will dramatically reduce the cost and burden of tax preparation and compliance for individuals and corporations.

Reduce the deficit. To escape our nation’s crushing debt and deficit problem, we must have shared sacrifice – and that means a portion of the savings from cutting tax expenditures must be dedicated to deficit reduction. At the same time, revenue cannot constantly increase as a share of the economy. Deficit reduction from tax reform will be companied by deficit reduction from spending cuts-which will come first. Under our plan, revenue reaches 21 percent of GDP by 2022 and is then capped at that level.

Maintain or increase progressivity of the tax code. Though reducing the deficit will require shared sacrifice, those of us who are best off will need to contribute the most. Tax reform must continue to protect those who are most vulnerable, and eliminate tax loopholes favoring those who need help least.

Make America the best place to start a business and create jobs. The current tax code saps the competitiveness of U.S. companies. Tax reform should make the United States the best place for starting and building businesses. Additionally, the tax code should help U.S.-based multinationals compete abroad in active foreign operations and in acquiring foreign businesses.

RECOMMENDATION 2.1: ENACT FUNDAMENTAL TAX REFORM BY 2012 TO LOWER RATES, REDUCE DEFICITS, AND SIMPLIFY THE CODE.  Eliminate all income tax expenditures, dedicate a portion of the additional revenue to deficit reduction, and use the remaining revenue to lower rates and add back necessary expenditures and credits.

There’s a lot about cutting tax expenditures in this section, which I guess to mean tax breaks that are given as deductions or credits.  They are suggesting I think to eliminate all of them, the reason I think that’s what they mean is because they don’t mention specific ones to keep or get rid of.  So, because all these deductions and credits are eliminated then overall rates can go down.  Then, they are saying to add back a few, but to raise rates to compensate.  

First off, why not just keep the ones we want and put the rates to match?  

This is where the hubbub came about eliminating the mortgage interest deduction from the news.  Here are their main strategies:

2.1.1 Cut rates across the board, and reduce the top rate to between 23 and 29 percent. Real tax reform must dedicate a portion of the savings from cutting tax expenditures to lowering individual rates. The top rate must not exceed 29%.

2.1.2 Dedicate $80 billion to deficit reduction in 2015 and $180 billion in 2020. In additional to reducing rates, reform must be projected to raise $80 billion of additional revenue (relative to the alternative fiscal scenario) in 2015 and $180 billion in 2020. To the extent that the dynamic effects of tax reform result in additional revenue beyond these targets, excess funds must go to rate reductions and deficit reduction, not to new spending.

2.1.3 Simplify key provisions to promote work, homes, health, charity, and savings while increasing or maintaining progressivity. Congress and the President must decide which tax expenditures to include in the tax code in smaller and more targeted form than under current law, recognizing that any add-backs will raise rates. The new tax code must include provisions (in some cases permanent, in others temporary) for the following:

• Support for low-income workers and families (e.g., the child credit and EITC);

• Mortgage interest only for principal residences;

• Employer-provided health insurance;

• Charitable giving;

• Retirement savings and pensions.

Now, if you’re looking at the report, take a look at figure 7, in the PDF it’s on page 32.

They are proposing 3 tax brackets (12,22,28%).  Personally, I don’t think that’s enough progressivity.  We need at least 5, probably 6 brackets.

They propose permanently repealing AMT, it’s always a problem.  So, I say it’s probably better to just get rid of it, as long as we eliminate a lot of the tax loop holes for the wealthy.

They propose the full repeal of PEP and Pease, which are basically phase outs of itemized deductions.  So, if we eliminate most of the deductions I have no problem with that.  If we leave them, then PEP and Pease need to stay.

They propose to keep the EITC or Child credit.  I agree

They propose to eliminate itemized deduction, everyone takes the same standard deduction.  I could go for that, if it made sense overall with a change in rates.

They propose all capital gains and dividends be taxed as ordinary income.  I 100% agree with this, I’ve been saying this for years.

Now mortgage interest deduction, they want to change it to this:

12% non-refundable tax credit available to all taxpayers; Mortgage capped at $500,000; No credit for interest from second residence and equity

Basically, it eliminated tax deductions on 2nd homes and caps what can be deducted.  

I would submit that I would like to see this deduction changed slightly.  Make it a standard deduction across the board for housing.  Call it a housing deduction.  All they would need is proof that they are paying for housing.  This would help renters, plus it would simply everything.

They propose to basically phase out the tax on health plans (cadillac tax from HIR)

Their proposal for charitable giving:

12% non-refundable tax credit available to all taxpayers; available above 2% of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)


They propose taxing on state and municipal bonds the interest on the initial sale of the bonds.  I disagree with this, it’s hard enough for state and local governments to raise money.  The tax free nature of these bonds is what makes them desirable by investors.

They also basically propose to leave retirement plans as is, except they may try to consolidate them.

All other tax breaks would be eliminated.  If they are added they would have to be paid for by adjusting brackets.


Here’s what they propose:

2.2.1 Establish single corporate tax rate between 23 percent and 29 percent. Corporate tax reform should replace the multiple brackets (the top being 35 percent), with a single bracket as low as 23 percent and no higher than 29 percent.

2.2.2 Eliminate all tax expenditures for businesses. Corporate tax reform should eliminate special subsidies for different industries. By eliminating business tax expenditures – currently more than 75 – the corporate tax rate can be significantly reduced while contributing to deficit reduction. A lower overall tax rate will improve American business competitiveness. Abolishing special subsidies will also create an even playing field for all businesses instead of artificially picking winners and losers.

2.2.3 Move to a competitive territorial tax system. To bring the U.S. system more in line with our international trading partners’, we recommend changing the way we tax foreign-source income by moving to a territorial system. Under such a system, income earned by foreign subsidiaries and branch operations (e.g., a foreign-owned company with a subsidiary operating in the United States) is exempt from their country’s domestic corporate income tax. Therefore, under a territorial system, most or all of the foreign profits are not subject to domestic tax. The taxation of passive foreign-source income would not change. (It would continue to be taxed currently.)

I can get on board with the first two.  Corporations in this country pay no where near what their actual tax rate is on the scale.  So, if we end all the tax breaks and the deductions, they will be more likely to pay the actual rate.  So, the rate could be lower in that scenario.  The last one I totally disagree with, there is a reason why we do things differently here in the US.  Most, multi-national corporations are based here, and most of their sales are from here.  I don’t think it’s wise to go to that type of system.


I don’t understand why this is necessary.  If the above changes were all part of the same bill, why would we need a failsafe?   It doesn’t make sense to me.

The next section is all about Health Care.  Should I keep going?


  1. They are mostly too vague. It all depends on the implementation. They only spell out a few examples of deductions. What does “broaden the base” mean? That sounds like they want more from the lower income groups. The right complains that not enough people pay income tax. I don’t know what other interpretation to put on that.

    I agree with you on the number of tax brackets. There should be more than 3. The top bracket would have to kick in around $100,000 or so. Why should someone who makes $125,000 pay the same rate as someone that makes $12.5 million? Why should someone that makes $12.5 million pay the same rate as someone who makes $125 million? Once you accept the need for any tax brackets, there’s no reason not to have several.

    There’s something else about tax brackets. They aren’t fair unless they are tied to inflation. The personal exemption should match the current poverty level. That’s ~$10,000 now. Tax brackets should be based on multiples of the poverty number. Say, first bracket up to twice poverty. Second to 5 times poverty level. Then 10X, 100X, etc… Go up 10 percent each bracket until you reach 50%. If the first bracket is $10,000 this year then that would be 5 brackets. All of these rates, of course, are marginal rates.

    1) $0-$10,000 @ 10% (this would all be deductible through the personal exemption.)

    2) $10,001-$50,000 @ 10%

    3) $50,001-$100,000 @ 20%

    4) $100,001-$1,000,000 @ 30%

    5) $1,000,000-$10,000,000 @ 40%

    6) $10,000,001+ @ 50%

  2. creamer

      When I look at my budget, I look at income then I look at spending needs and wants.

     I think the debt commission made an honest attempt to do the same. I’ve heard the 20-21 % of GDP mentioned. This number has been held up as the limit of spending before it adversely affects the economy I believe. And while some proably have the intellect and knowledge base to dispute that number, I am not one of theese select few. So while I’m enjoying most of the discussion here, would it not hold true that what ever change one might argue on the revenue side, would require a corresponding change on the spending side?


  3. jsfox

    I have to agree I think we may need more brackets just to make the code as progressive as possible. I also like Creamers idea of adjusting to the poverty level.

    I am torn on home mortgage deduction. One I agree that only primary residence should be deductible, where I am torn is whether we need it at all. We like it because we are used to it this does not automatically mean it is a good idea. Canada does not automatically allow mortgage deductions ( you need to jump through some tax code hoops to get it ) and yet per capita home ownership is on par with the US.

    Next on business taxes I really do not understand  – Move to a competitive territorial tax system. Someone is going to have to explain it to me better so I can weigh in on whether it is a good or not.

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