According to WSJ (link), the majority of surveyed economists in the U.S. suggests that Obama administration should extend personal income tax cuts imposed under Bush administration between 2001 and 2003. Given the dismal effects of $787 billion stimulus, the U.S. economy would greatly benefit from tax cuts on earners in all income brackets. However, is the administration under president Obama willing to reverse the growing trend of government spending?
Critics of Bush tax cuts claim that reduction in personal income tax rates between 2001 and 2003 resulted in a disproportionate windfall gain to the wealthiest U.S. households while the families in the lower tail of income distribution received very low or zero gains from 2001-2003 tax cuts. What would happen if the Obama administration extended tax cuts for all taxpayers? Would the reduction of tax burden lead to stronger and faster U.S. economic recovery? To answer the question, it is essential to understand what actually happened with the U.S. economy when Bush tax cuts were implemented.
Between 2001 and 2003, Bush administration enacted a series of tax cuts aimed at boosting the recovery of the U.S. economy from the 2001 recesion. In this year, tax rate on income in the lowest bracket was reduced to 10 percent while top marginal tax rate was slashed to 35 percent from 39.6 percent. Tax rates were also reduced for middle-income earners. In 2002, the administration reduced tax burden on new business investment while in 2003 tax rates on dividends and capital gains was decreased. These measures were a part of broader $1.35 trillion tax cut program approved by the Congress over a ten year course.
However, tax cuts didn't pay for themselves as President Bush promised. The reason is the growth of federal government spending which increased by 2.5 percentage points of GDP between 2001 and 2008. During his term, President Bush signed the so called Medicare Part D plan which assured seniors additional drug prescription. The act created $8.4 trillion in unfunded obligations in present value terms. The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) estimated that extending Bush tax cuts would cost the U.S. Treasury $1.8 trillion in the following decade and would dramatically increase the federal budget deficit.
The war in Iraq was the major source of a growing public debt. Between 2001 and 2008 the federal public debt increased by 5.4 percentage points of GDP. Due to the growth of government spending, tax cuts led to a widening budget deficit. It should be noted that tax cuts were not the cause of the 2008-2009 budget deficit as critics often argue. An analysis by Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has shown that Bush tax cuts account for about 25 percent of the 2009 federal budget deficit.
If tax cuts are not accompanied by the reduction in government spending, the outcome is likely to result in either budget deficit or growing public debt. This is exactly what happened in the medium term with Bush tax cuts. A reduction in tax burden on personal income can result in higher tax revenue only if government spending is reduced. The U.S. budget outlook suggests a dismal fiscal future for America, marred by high public debt and a wide budget deficit that is unlikely to disappear before 2017. Bush tax cuts should be extended for earners in all income brackets, but only under a permanent reduction of government spending. Otherwise, any further tax cut would only add to the magnitude of federal budget deficit.