Tax cuts have become the panacea of conservative economic thinking, but curiously, the AP reports Republicans are now lining up to raise taxes on nearly half of all Americans. In his radio address this weekend, President Obama called for an extension to the payroll tax holiday he signed into law last year, which benefits every working American, lowering the 6.2 percent tax that funds Social Security to 4.2 percent. The tax cut will expire in January, and many of the same Republican lawmakers who fought tooth and nail to preserve the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are now coming out against an extension of the payroll tax holiday.
Why? Social Security payroll taxes mainly benefit middle- and working-class Americans, as the tax only applies to the first $106,800 of a worker’s wages. Thus, no matter how much money someone makes, they will see a maximum benefit of $2,136 from the holiday — a pittance compared to the savings for the wealthy from the Bush income tax cuts. Republicans claim these cuts for lower-income earners will do less to stimulate the economy than cuts for the wealthy or employers:
“It’s always a net positive to let taxpayers keep more of what they earn,” says Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), “but not all tax relief is created equal for the purposes of helping to get the economy moving again.”
Hensarling, the House’ fourth-ranking Republican, is right — some tax cuts do more than others to “get the economy moving again.” He just has it backwards about which cuts do that. Tax cuts for wealthy, such as those in the Bush tax cuts, are the single “least effective way to spur the economy and reduce unemployment,” according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, because wealthy Americans were more likely to save their money than spend it.
Conversely, payroll tax cuts are one of the most efficient ways to stimulate economic growth, because low- and middle-income earners are more likely to spend their extra cash right away. But this analysis and similar ones from Moody’s and other experts has not disuaded Republicans from their myopic focus on tax cuts for the the wealthy only.
GOP budget guru Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) dismissed a payroll tax holiday in June as nothing but “sugar-high economics.” Meanwhile, presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he “would prefer to see the payroll tax cut on the employer side,” instead of for the employee. Both sides pay an equal amount for a total contribution of 12.4 percent per worker.
Indeed, the conservative dogma on taxes seems to flip for low-income earners, as many conservatives have explicitly called for the poor and middle-class to pay more in taxes.