The fiscal cliff deal contains more bad news than it does good news. Yes, the tax increases on the middle class could have been much worse, and we should be thankful that Congress at least did something for the middle class. Unfortunately, they didn't do enough. Every American worker is going to pay higher taxes next year as a result of this deal. The fiscal cliff deal represents the biggest tax increase in 20 years, and it is also projected to increase the U.S. national debt by an additional 4 trillion dollars over the next decade. In the final analysis, U.S. government finances are still wildly out of control and we are all going to be paying higher taxes. Not a whole lot to be excited about, and nothing has really been fixed for the long-term. Our politicians have kicked the can down the road once again, but someday they will run out of road and all of this debt will absolutely crush us. And of course a lot of our politicians didn't even really know what they were voting for. The fiscal cliff bill was more than 150 pages long, and our Senators got the bill into their hands just 3 minutes before they voted on it. So none of them actually read the bill. But that is the way things work in America today. The blind are leading the blind and everyone is mindlessly hoping that everything will turn out okay somehow.
For a few moments, let's take a closer look at the fiscal cliff deal. There are some good things in there, there are some bad things in there, and there are some things about the deal that are downright ugly.
-One of the best things about the fiscal cliff deal is that income tax rates did not rise on the poor and the middle class. This is great news for millions of families that are struggling to make ends meet each month. A significant rise in income tax rates would have been crippling.
-The Alternative Minimum Tax will now be permanently adjusted for inflation. This is something that I had screamed about in previous articles. If an AMT fix had not been passed, approximately 28 million households would have been hammered with the Alternative Minimum Tax on their 2012 earnings.
-Millions of unemployed workers will continue to receive extended federal unemployment benefits. We probably cannot really afford to keep doing this, but at least now there won't be millions of unemployed workers that suddenly have their only source of income shut off. The next trick will be to find jobs for all of those workers. Unfortunately, millions of our jobs continue to be shipped to the other side of the world.
-Payroll taxes are going up for every American worker. The fiscal cliff deal allows the 2 percent payroll tax cut to expire, and so now the average U.S. household bringing in about $50,000 a year will pay approximately $1,000 more per year in payroll taxes. As a result, it is being projected that U.S. consumers will have $115 billion less in disposable income to spend in 2013. Happy New Year American workers!
-The fiscal cliff deal did nothing about the new Obamacare taxes that went into effect on January 1st. Many of these taxes will hurt the middle class. To see an example of a receipt where a consumer was charged the new "medical excise tax" in Obamacare, just check out this article.
-The carried-interest deduction loophole remains intact, so incredibly wealthy hedge fund managers will continue to get away with paying very little in taxes. If the rest of us are being taxed into oblivion, then they should share in the pain with the rest of us. Of course I personally believe that the income tax should be abolished entirely, but none of our politicians seem interested in that idea at all.
-Income tax rates will increase for high earners. This will hurt a lot of small businesses. Many small businesses that earn more than $400,000 a year will now be faced with making some really tough choices. Some may have to lay off workers. The top rate will now be 39.6 percent, but when other federal and state taxes are factored in, many small businesses will now be paying a top marginal rate of well over 50 percent. That is absolutely obscene.
-A compromise was reached on the estate tax. The exemption was scheduled to fall to just $1 million and the rate was scheduled to go up to 55 percent, and fortunately Congress decided to do something about that. As I have written about previously, that would have been a disaster for many small businesses and family farms. As a result of the fiscal cliff deal, the estate tax will only rise from 35 percent to 40 percent. The exemption for individuals will be about 5 million dollars and for couples it will be about 10 million dollars, and those figures will now be indexed for inflation. A tax increase is never a good thing, but if Congress had done nothing things would have been far worse.
-The fiscal cliff deal contains a lot of pork. In particular, it contains provisions that extend specific tax breaks related to Puerto Rican rum, electric motorcycles, biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel, the film and television business, and motorsports entertainment complexes.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, as a result of this deal the U.S. national debt will be about $4 trillion higher a decade from now than it would have been if Congress had done nothing.
The deficit for fiscal year 2013 alone will be about $330 billion higher than it would have been if Congress had done nothing.
So this deal has made our debt problems even worse.
Right now, the U.S. has a debt to GDP ratio of about 103 percent. We are already well into the "danger zone", yet most Americans still don't seem very concerned about all of this debt.
The fiscal cliff deal contained hardly any spending cuts at all. In fact, there was a 41 to 1 ratio of tax increases to spending cuts in the deal. The Democrats definitely won this round. But of course they had most of the leverage. If Congress had done nothing, the middle class would have been absolutely devastated by all of the tax increases, and the Republicans were desperate to prevent that.
But now that the battle over taxes is done, the leverage is going to shift over to the Republicans for the next big fight.
The battle over the debt ceiling is next. If Congress does not act, the U.S. government will soon not be able to borrow any additional money. This battle will be one of the stories that dominates the headlines over the next few months.
If the Republicans want to do something serious about spending, now is their chance. The battle over tax rates is already over, and there is no election in November. The Republicans could conceivably say "NO" to a debt ceiling increase if they want to. If that happened, the federal government would only be able to spend the money that it already has. It would not be able to borrow more. That would mean that we would have to start living within our means.
What a novel concept.
Of course there is no reason to believe that the Republicans in the House will suddenly grow a spine. They have folded every other time that the debt ceiling has come up. It will probably be the same again in 2013.
And Barack Obama is already saying that there will be "no negotiations" over the debt ceiling this time. He expects the Republicans to raise the debt ceiling for him without getting anything in return...
"I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether they will pay the bills they’ve already racked up."
But the U.S. government cannot spend a single penny or borrow a single penny without the approval of the U.S. House of Representatives.
If the Republicans in the House want to ever get serious about government spending, the upcoming battle over the debt ceiling is a golden opportunity.
They could stop the Obama administration from piling up crazy amounts of debt if they want to. All they need is the courage to take a stand.
During the first four years of the Obama administration, the U.S. government accumulated about as much debt as it did from the time that George Washington took office to the time that George W. Bush took office.
The Republicans have had control of the House for about half of that time. That means that they have been willing accomplices.
So will they take a stand?
That is very doubtful. Over the past few years they have exhibited the intestinal fortitude of a frightened chicken. They will probably huff and puff a little bit, but in the end they will probably give in to Obama once again.
But what we are doing to our children and our grandchildren is so immoral that it is hard to describe. We are stealing more than 100 million dollars from them every single hour of every single day, and we plan on leaving them with the biggest pile of debt the world has ever seen. We should be absolutely ashamed of ourselves.
Why can't we just spend the money that we have?
What would be so wrong with that?
Unfortunately, that would mean such a painful downward adjustment in our standard of living that most Americans would freak out. We are addicted to debt-fueled prosperity, and so we can't stop stealing from future generations. We need their money to feed our addiction.
In the end, this gigantic mountain of debt is absolutely going to destroy everything that our forefathers built for us. There have been some people that have been warning about this for decades, but the American people did not listen.
Soon enough, we will all pay the price for this foolishness.