Neal’s Tax Bill Is Big And Bold, With Hits and Misses

The most important thing to know about the tax bill proposed by House Ways & Means Committee Richard Neal (D-MA) is that it’s big. Really big. The congressional Joint Committee on taxation estimates the massive plan would raise taxes on corporations and high-income households by roughly $2.1 trillion over 10 years, use about $1.2 trillion to cut taxes mostly for low- and middle-income households and reserve the remaining $900 billion to help pay for new domestic spending.

That’s more modest than President Biden’s budget, which would have cut taxes for low-income households by $1.1 trillion and raised taxes on corporations and the wealthy by about $3.6 trillion. But it still is enormous. Among many provisions, Neal would:

Here are a few hits and misses:

The high-income surcharge. The Ways & Means draft would raise the top rate to 39.6 percent as Biden proposed. But it also would create a new 3 percentage point surtax on those with modified adjusted gross income of $5 million or more. This appears to be something of a substitute for Biden’s more expansive plan to raise taxes on capital gains. But, separately, Neal would begin a new 39.6 percent bracket at $450,000 for joint filers ($400,000 for singles). Adding another bracket beginning at $5 million is…weird.

Capital gains. The bill would raise the top capital gains rate to 25 percent from 20 percent (plus the 3.8 percent Net Investment Income Tax). Neal scaled back Biden’s plan to raise the capital gains rate to the top ordinary income rate and scrapped the president’s plan to tax unrealized capital gains at death. That will encourage some investors to hold on to assets until they die so they can pass them on untaxed to their heirs.

The child tax credit. The bill would make permanent the American Rescue Plan’s full refundability of the Child Tax Credit. That would be a boon to very low-income families. But to appear less costly, it would extend the ARP’s other expansions of the credit only through 2025. That would add still more provisions to the very long list of tax extenders that technically expire every few years but are nonetheless renewed—again and again.  

The corporate tax rate. Biden wanted to raise the rate from 21 percent to 28 percent. Neal settled on a top rate of 26.5 percent, with lower rates for businesses with less taxable income. But even his slimmed-down plan would raise about $540 billion over 10 years.

International taxation. The Ways & Means bill appears to be a more modest version of Biden’s plan. It retains some key provisions of the TCJA, though overall it toughens them up. And it sets a 16.5 percent minimum tax on global income. But how will these complex provisions work together?

IRS enforcement. Biden couldn’t convince any Republicans to vote for this in the Senate infrastructure bill, so it looks like Democrats will stuff it into the social spending measure. However it gets there, the money is sorely needed at the IRS. Neal left out Biden’s plan to require new information reporting by banks and other financial institutions.

The pass-through deduction. The TCJA created a special 20 percent deduction for qualified income of pass-through businesses such as partnerships. In his presidential campaign, Biden proposed repealing the tax break, which has resulted in little or no economic benefit. But he left it out of his budget. Neal would cap the benefits for some high-income taxpayers. Better than nothing, but why not repeal the whole thing?

Carried Interest. The bill purports to tighten the tax break that managers of private equity funds and other investment firms have enjoyed for years: A big chunk of their compensation is treated as capital gains rather than ordinary income and thus taxed at a much lower rate. The bill would require managers making more than $400,000 to hold on to investments for five years instead of three to qualify for the long-term capital gains tax rate. Thing is: The average holding period for these assets is six years.

The SALT cap. A group of Blue State Democrats vowed to oppose (and thus kill) the social spending bill unless it rolled back the TCJA’s cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. But the Ways & Means bill is silent on the issue. Perhaps the Democratic leadership is waiting to see how much money it has to spend on a SALT reform before it decides what to do.

Tax simplification. Lawmakers used to at least give the idea lip service. But this draft seems to go out of its way to add complexity to the tax code. In part to keep Biden’s promise to not raise taxes on households making $400,000 or less, the bill is replete with thresholds and phase-outs. To say nothing of new special interest tax breaks it creates. A tax credit for local newspapers to partially offset payroll? Really?

Neal’s draft is just the beginning of a months-long process. But like most big and ambitious proposals, it is a mix of hits and misses.    






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