Paying for job creation the right way

Earlier this week, Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew outlined a package of tax changes to pay for the American Jobs Act. These offsets are generally consistent with our criteria for financing an effective jobs plan: the president’s proposed jobs bill would add to the near-term budget deficit (as it should) and gradually be paid for over the next decade, largely when the economy is stronger and unemployment is lower. Furthermore, the proposed offsets are entirely on the revenue side (also beneficial, as permanent tax changes have substantially less impact on near-term economic activity than spending cuts) and these specific polices would have almost no impact on economic activity.

The White House proposed four policies that would save $467 billion over the next decade, slightly exceeding the $447 billion price tag of the job creation package, which is front loaded over the next two years. Most of these policies were proposed in the president’s 2012 budget and none of the proposals would decrease disposable income for working and middle class families.

At $400 billion, the largest of the proposed offsets would limit the rate at which tax expenditures–such as itemized deductions–reduce tax liability for households with adjusted gross income above $200,000 ($250,000 for joint-filers). The value of most tax expenditures increase with a tax filer’s marginal tax rate; limiting this value would make many preferences less regressive while maintaining incentives embedded in the tax code.

The president’s budget proposed limiting the value of itemized deductions to 28%, which would have only affected 1.8% of tax filers relative to current tax policies, according to the Tax Policy Center. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that this would save $293 billion over 2012-21. This policy has been scaled up to also limit the value of specified above-the-line deductions and exclusions for upper-income households. (In our budget blueprint for economic recovery and fiscal responsibility, we proposed limiting the benefit on itemized deductions to 15% for savings of $1.2 trillion over 10 years).

The other offsets include $40 billion from ending subsidies to oil and gas companies, $18 billion from ending the carried interest loophole for investment income, and $3 billion from ending a tax break allowing firms to gradually write off the cost of corporate jets. The carried interest preference, which allows investment bankers to reclassify a portion of their ordinary income as capital gains subject to a 15% tax rate, was recently highlighted when Warren Buffet implored Congress to stop coddling millionaires with lower effective tax rates than those paid by many middle-class families. The oil and gas subsidies are prime examples of corporate welfare embedded in the tax code benefiting a particularly profitable industry. Repealing these carve outs will have a negligible impact on employment; further, all pass muster as progressive improvements to the tax code.

Beyond picking offsets that would have little impact on economic activity, the timing seems appropriate. The budgetary offsets would be delayed until Jan. 2013, and the offsets combined with the jobs package would almost certainly increase the budget deficit for the next two years (the timing of infrastructure outlays is somewhat uncertain).

Budgetary offsets focused more heavily on spending cuts or the near-term deficit would compromise the positive employment impact of the American Jobs Bill, but these progressive revenue changes would have a negligible impact on employment. Allowing the near-term budget deficit to rise and at the same time putting the country on a stable fiscal path over the long run isn’t just possible, it’s necessary.