It fulfills two-thirds of a campaign promise to raise taxes, but it opens the door to more showdowns over the budget. —Derek Thompson
The battle over the fiscal cliff ended New Year's Day as lawmakers approved legislation that will have far-ranging impacts on Americans immediately, as well as months and years into the future as additional debates loom.
According to The Associated Press, the deal boosts the top 35 percent income tax rate to 39.6 percent for incomes of more than $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples. The bill also raises the taxes top earners pay on dividends, capital gains and inherited estates; permanently stops the alternative minimum tax from raising levies on middle-income families; extends jobless benefits; prevents cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors and delays sequestration cuts for two months.
In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, David Malpass, legislative manager for the 1986 Tax Reform Act in the Reagan administration, said the legislation creates four deadlines: a soon-to-hit debt-limit increase, the March 1 sequester, a second sequester on March 27 making up for overspending since the first sequester and the March 30 expiration of government spending authority.
"These deadlines will keep Washington negotiations on the front page for months," Malpass wrote.
Despite the passage of the fiscal cliff deal, the Tax Policy Center estimates that 77 percent of American households will see higher taxes due to the expiration of the two-year payroll tax holiday.
A Tax Policy Center analysis suggests that households making between $20,000 and $30,000 will see taxes rise by $297, while households with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 will see an increase of $822. According to the U.S. Census, Utah's median household income between 2007 and 2011 was around $57,700.
"For a lot of people the increased withholding from payroll tax expiration will be significant and they'll really see that and feel that as a legitimate tax increase," Joseph Rosenberg of the Tax Policy Center told NBC News. "But there was a lot of tax relief that has been extended."
The tax changes and extensions included in the deal come in a variety of areas, including business, energy, unemployment, health and agriculture.
Individual tax extenders in the bill included the extension of deductions for certain expenses of elementary and secondary school teachers, the extension of tax-free distributions from individual retirement plans for charitable purposes and the extension of above-the-line deductions for qualified tuition and related expenses.
Business tax extenders included the extension and modification of things like research credit, the work opportunity tax credit, empowerment zone tax incentives and bonus depreciation. Other business extensions impacted things like motorsport racing, mine safety and rescue team training, railroad track maintenance and expensing rules for certain film and television productions.
Energy tax extenders included the extension of the alternative fuels excise tax credits, as well as credit for energy-efficient existing homes, alternative fuel vehicle refueling property, two- or three-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles and energy-efficient new homes and appliances.
Unemployment measures included the extension of the emergency unemployment compensation program, the temporary extension of extended benefit provisions and the extension of funding for re-employment services and re-employment and eligibility assessment activities.
Health measures included the extension of Medicare inpatient hospital payment adjustment for low-volume hospitals, Medicare reasonable cost controls, funding outreach and assistance for low-income programs and performance improvement.
A one-year extension of agricultural programs was also included in the bill.Comment on this story
As part of the deal, the gift and estate tax rates have increased from a maximum of 35 percent to 40 percent.
The Atlantic's Derek Thompson gave the deal an overall B-minus grade, saying it wasn't a bad deal, but that it was incomplete.
"It fulfills two-thirds of a campaign promise to raise taxes, but it opens the door to more showdowns over the budget," Thompson said. "It preserves tall deficits now, but doesn't aim for the ultimate grand bargain: trading long-term deficit reduction for short-term stimulus."