Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) isn't on the Senate Finance Committee, so it was a little weird that he took to AEI today to unveil a tax reform proposal. Nevertheless, the plan — which is clearly based on a proposal from Bush Treasury veteran Robert Stein — is pretty interesting. Here are the basics:
• Fewer brackets: In the place of today's seven tax brackets (ranging from 10 percent to 39.6 percent), Lee's plan has two, at 15 percent and 35 percent. And the cutoff for the 35 percent bracket is high — $87,850 for singles, and twice that ($175,700) for couples. The above chart is a bit hard to read (click to expand it) but in short, your top marginal rate will be:
• Lower if: Your taxable income is between $36,251 and $87,850 (or between $72,501 and $175,700 for married couples filing jointly) or if it's $400,001 or higher ($450,001 for married couples).
• Higher if: Your taxable income is between $87,851 and $398,350 (or between $175,701 and $398,350 for married couples) or if it's $8,925 or lower ($17,850 or lower for married couples).
• The same if: Your income is between $8,926 and $36,250 (or between $17,851 and $72,500 for married couples) or between $398,351 and $400,000 (or between $398,351 and $450,000 for married couples).
Note that just because individuals making between $87,851 and $398,350 (or married couples making between $175,701 and $398,350) face a higher top tax rate doesn't mean their tax burden overall will increase. They'll benefit from the bigger 15 percent bracket, which could negate the higher rates on the first and last income they earn.
• Fewer deductions: The plan gets rid of most every tax deduction besides the charitable deduction and the mortgage interest deduction (which is limited to home values below $300,000; the current limit on principal is $1 million), both of which are made available to taxpayers who don't itemize. That means the state and local tax deduction, which helps people in states with heavy property or income tax burdens, would go away.
• Consolidated credits: The standard deduction and personal exemption are replaced with a $2,000 personal credit and a $2,500 per child tax credit. The latter can be counted against either the income tax or — if one doesn't have an income tax burden — payroll taxes. Unlike the current child tax credit, it wouldn't phase out, and all parents of dependent children would be eligible. The existing child tax credit, and the exemption for dependents, are left unchanged, as are most other credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care Credit,
• No change to most other expenditures: The exclusions for employer-provided health insurance and pensions, for example, are not touched. The lower rates on capital income are not affected, apart from a technical correction necessitated by the changes to the tax brackets for ordinary income.
• Eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax: This one's pretty self-explanatory.
• Suck it, Obamacare: The plan would repeal two revenue-raisers associated with the Affordable Care Act: the 3.8 percent Medicare surtax on investment income, and the 0.9 percent surtax on wages for high earners. Left untouched are a number of the bill's other elements, most notably the excise tax on expensive health plans, the medical devices tax, and the tax on tanning.
There's still a lot we don't know about the plan, like how much revenue it'll raise (Lee's aiming for 18-20 percent of GDP but the Joint Committee on Taxation's score will tell the tale) or its actual distributional outcome (hopefully the Tax Policy Center will run the numbers on that). But since the new child credit would probably increase the number of families not paying any income taxes, it's an interesting proposal for a Republican to make.
"Some might worry that increasing the child credit would take more people off the income tax rolls altogether. And it would," Lee said in his speech at AEI. "But then again, people who pay no income tax do pay federal taxes – payroll taxes, gas taxes and various others. Working families are not free riders."