House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., the House tax writer, leaves the podium after a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, where he outlined a major plan to rewrite the nation’s tax code. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 5:30 PM
WASHINGTON — A sweeping House Republican plan to overhaul the nation's tax laws would wipe out a slew of popular tax breaks to help pay for lower overall tax rates, a politically risky move in an election year that drew quick opposition Wednesday.
The plan would repeal deductions for state and local taxes, medical expenses and moving expenses. Tax credits for child care, adoption services and energy-efficient upgrades to homes would be gone.
The mortgage interest deduction would be reduced for people buying houses costing more than $500,000. The deduction for charitable giving would be limited to contributions that exceed 2 percent of a taxpayer's income.
In exchange, income tax rates would be cut and the standard deduction, which is used by most taxpayers, would be nearly doubled. The child tax credit would be increased and a complicated series of tax breaks for education expenses would be consolidated and simplified.
The plan would mark the first overhaul of the tax code since 1986. It borrows ideas from President Barack Obama and other Democrats. But here's a reality check: It has almost no chance of becoming law this year. Even House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, distanced himself from the details Wednesday.
Still, it could become an important political document as congressional elections approach in November. Should Republicans embrace the plan, they could use it to highlight their efforts to simplify tax laws and spur economic growth.
"We need to be the party of growth, opportunity, restoring the American dream. And I think this is something Americans have hungered for," said the plan's author, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. "Look, we have an obligation to debate the big issues of the day."
Democrats quickly revealed their election-year strategy, pointing out cherished tax breaks that would be cut.
"Any proposal that eliminates the deduction for state and local taxes, as the Republican plan would do, is dead on arrival," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Boehner, already wary of some of the unpleasant details, would not promise a vote in the House this year. When asked about the details, Boehner said: "Blah, blah, blah, blah. Listen, there's a conversation that needs to begin. This is the beginning of the conversation."
When asked whether the Republican Party stood behind the plan, Boehner said, "You're getting a little bit ahead of yourself."
The White House was more upbeat. Spokesman Josh Earnest said there are "a couple of aspects of congressman Camp's proposal that are encouraging."
Earnest said the White House was concerned about cuts to the Earned Income Tax Credit, one of the federal government's largest anti-poverty programs. Republicans noted that the cut is offset by other provisions that would help the working poor, including a larger standard deduction.
Under the plan, investment managers, big banks and owners of corporate jets would get hit with new or higher taxes, billions would be set aside for public works projects, and some wealthy business partners would no longer be able to avoid Medicare taxes.
Those are ideas championed by Obama, who would direct the new revenue toward more government spending. Republicans, meanwhile, would use it to lower income tax rates for most families and corporations.
The top income tax rate would drop from 39.6 percent to 25 percent, but the plan would impose a new 10 percent surtax on income above $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for married couples. The top corporate income tax rate would fall from 35 percent to 25 percent.
The plan would increase the standard deduction from $12,400 to $22,000 for married couples, essentially exempting families that make less from paying federal income taxes. The child tax credit would be increased from $1,000 to $1,500.
The plan is designed to encourage more taxpayers to take the simpler standard deduction rather than itemizing. As a result, 95 percent of filers would take the standard deduction rather than itemize, according to analysis by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. Currently, about one-third of filers itemize their deductions.
Investment income currently has a top tax rate of 20 percent. Under Camp's plan, capital gains and qualified dividends would be taxed like regular income, but investors could exempt 40 percent of their earnings.
That would result in a 15 percent tax rate for many investors. The superrich would have a top tax rate of 21 percent on their investments.
The plan is designed to raise about the same amount of tax revenue as the current system, though the overhauled system would be much simpler. It also is designed so that different income groups continue to pay about the same as they do today. Individual taxpayers, however, could see big changes, depending on their circumstances.