CHART: Even the poorest of the poor pay more taxes under Obama’s budget

April 23, 2013

That's right, it's the time of year when good little boys and girls gather round for the Tax Policy Center to give us distribution tables for the upcoming fiscal year's budget. And this year is more interesting than usual, as President Obama has proposed not just his usual battery of income tax increases on the top two percent of earners (including the Buffett rule, closing of the carried interest loophole and an across-the-board limit on the rate at which one can collect itemized deductions) but a cigarette tax, designed to finance his new preschool plan.

So who does that hurt and who does it help?


Well, it depends what year you're looking at. For households making over $200,000 a year, 2015 doesn't look all that different from 2023. In 2015, those making over a million a year will have 3.8 percent less after-tax income; in 2023, they'll have 3.7 percent less.

But for the very poor they look incredibly different. In 2015, households making under $30,000 a year would all lose about 0.3 percent of their after-tax income. Those making under $10,000 a year would pay $18 more a year on average; those making between $10,000 and $20,000 would pay $43 more; and those making between $20,000 and $30,000 would pay $67 more.

But in 2023, those same households would actually make money relative to current law. Those making under $10,000 a year would get 2.7 percent more in after-tax income, for an average savings of $173. What's going on?

Well, the initial tax increase is easy to explain. That's the cigarette tax increase, which tends to hit poorer Americans more, as they're likelier to smoke. But the sudden big tax cut in 2023 isn't really a cut at all.

As part of the fiscal cliff deal, the Obama administration secured the extension of a number of tax credit modifications included in the stimulus package, which make the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit more generous, and allow the American Opportunity Tax Credit to not expire. The Tax Policy Center's baseline assumes those credits go away starting in 2018, as they do under current law. Obama's budget keeps them, which shows up as a big tax cut for the poor compared to the TPC's baseline. But really he's just continuing current policy. To be sure, it was a significant cut when Obama first signed it back in 2009, but nothing new is happening here.

Thanks to Donald Marron at TPC for walking me through the tax credit point.

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Evan Soltas · April 23, 2013