The Social Security payroll tax will pop back up to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent under the deal approved Friday by Congress. And new Medicare taxes enacted as part of President Obama’s health-care initiative will for the first time strike high-income households.
The potential shock to the nation’s pocketbook is so enormous, congressional aides have dubbed it “Taxmageddon.” Some economists say it could push the fragile U.S. economy back into recession, particularly if automatic cuts to federal agencies, also set for January, are permitted to take effect.
Obama and congressional Republicans say they hope to avert the coming blow, which stands to suck roughly $500 billion out of the economy in 2013. But both sides are bracing for another epic showdown in the weeks after the November election, as Democrats prepare to use Taxmageddon to break the partisan impasse over taxes that has blocked action on an array of issues, from modernizing the nation’s infrastructure to taming the national debt.
“I see the framework of a big agreement in the lame-duck [congressional session] to finally put this divisiveness behind us,” said Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), a senior member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. “Obama’s going to have great leverage to get something done.”
Since they took control of the House last year, congressional Republicans have needed nothing from Obama. They were the holdouts, demanding big cuts in federal spending in exchange for helping Obama keep the government open and raise the legal limit on government borrowing, known as the debt ceiling.
But in December, deadlock will cut the other way. Republicans need Obama if they want to prevent one of the biggest tax increases in U.S. history — nearly $5 trillion over the next decade, by official estimates — and block deep cuts to the Pentagon that could be triggered as part of last summer’s debt-ceiling accord.
The tax shock is set to occur after the Nov. 6 election but before the new Congress — and potentially a new president — take office two months later. While the outcome of the contest is likely to color the tax debate, Obama will either be freshly reelected or on his way out and, therefore, free to play hardball with Congress.
White House officials say Obama will not sign another full extension of the Bush tax cuts, as he did in December 2010. Obama is demanding a partial extension that would preserve the cuts for middle-class taxpayers but permit rates to rise on household income over $250,000.