We retired Tax Justice Blog in April 2017. For new content on issues related to tax justice, go to www.justtaxesblog.org
While the fiscal cliff debate may have seemed abstract and technical to many Americans, the results of the tax deal has become much more tangible to 77.5% of Americans who are seeing their take-home pay decrease in their first paychecks of the year, due to the expiration of the payroll tax holiday.
Anti-tax, anti-government types in the media and politics have taken advantage of the confusion over the fiscal cliff deal to make it seem like it was one big tax hike. One even argued that President Obama tricked the American public when he said he would only increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans. This is utter nonsense because what the deal really did was simply let a slew of temporary tax cuts expire.
As to the payroll tax holiday, President Obama actually supported another one year extension, but was forced to abandon it by House Republicans who largely opposed extending the holiday as part of the fiscal cliff deal. Going back even further, the temporary payroll tax holiday was only even put into effect in 2010 because President Obama demanded it, (albeit as a second choice to the much more effective Making Work Pay Credit which Republicans opposed), as part of his economic stimulus package.
Moreover, while many Americans may feel the pain from lower take-home pay this year compared to last, the reality is that the fiscal cliff deal made 85 percent of the Bush income tax cuts permanent. These rate reductions and other provisions were all written to be temporary and expire in 2010, but now they are permanent parts of the tax code and amount to $3.9 trillion in tax cuts over the next 10 years. In other words, rather than shifting America back to the Clinton-era tax rates, President Obama instead opted to make permanent the historically low Bush-era tax rates for 99.1 percent of Americans.
Finally, it’s worth remembering why we pay the payroll tax to begin with. It is the funding source for Social Security, one of the most successful government programs in US history. Although paying lower payroll taxes was nice for a couple years, the reality is that the holiday could not have been extended forever without endangering the long-term viability of Social Security’s funding.