The Tax Increase Joe Biden’s Tax Plan “Forgot” to Mention Affects His Pocketbook

The details of Joe Biden’s tax plan emerged on Thursday—“emerged” because the campaign has yet to release a plan on its website. Instead, Bloomberg News obtained and published details of the tax proposal.

Most news coverage of the plan has to date focused on two issues. First, Biden’s plan proposes raising a relatively modest amount of revenue—“only” $3.2 trillion over a decade, compared to $20-30 trillion for the likes of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). As an additional point of comparison, the 2017 tax cut, which Biden called “the dumbest thing in the world,” reduced revenues by $1.46 trillion over 10 years—less than half the fiscal impact of Biden’s tax increase. (Biden has said he wants to repeal those tax cuts, most of which are not included in his $3.2 trillion tax increase proposal.)

Second, stories have centered around the fact that Biden’s proposed revenue raisers would hit corporations and the affluent, while sparing the middle class. But few if any stories on Biden’s tax plan have mentioned one tax he has not proposed increasing—the one he failed to pay himself.

The List of Tax Increases

The Bloomberg story listed ten tax increases included in Biden’s $3.2 trillion plan:

  1. Taxing capital gains as ordinary income for individuals making more than $1 million ($800 billion revenue increase over ten years);
  2. Increasing the corporate income tax rate back up to 28% ($730 billion);
  3. Ending the “stepped-up basis” of taxation, under which the cost basis of inherited property (e.g., stocks, real estate, etc.) for determining capital gains tax liability is the value of the property at the time of the inheritance, rather than the value of the property when the deceased individual purchased the asset ($440 billion);
  4. Imposing a 15% minimum tax on all corporations with net income over $100 million, but who paid no federal income taxes ($400 billion);
  5. Doubling the rate of tax on profits generated overseas to 21% ($340 billion);
  6. Limiting the value of deductions for the wealthy to 28%, a proposal included in several Obama administration budgets ($310 billion);
  7. Raising the top rate of tax back up to 39.6% ($90 billion);
  8. Imposing sanctions on countries that “facilitate illegal corporate tax avoidance” ($200 billion);
  9. Eliminating real estate tax loopholes ($70 billion); and
  10. Ending fossil fuel subsidies ($40 billion).

Among that list of revenue raises, Biden did not incorporate a proposal submitted by the Obama administration in its budgets. That proposal, which would have raised taxes by an estimated $271.7 billion as of February 2016, attempted to end the practice of individuals funneling their profits through S corporations, to avoid paying self-employment taxes on their earnings.

The omission might come because, as previously reported, Biden and his wife used this loophole Obama wanted to close. In taking more than $13 million in book and speech earnings as income from their corporation, rather than wages, Joe and Jill Biden avoided paying as much as $500,000 in taxes—taxes used to fund Obamacare and Medicare. Experts interviewed by the Wall Street Journal over the summer called the maneuver “pretty aggressive” and a “pretty cut and dried” abuse of the system, because the Bidens’ speech and book income clearly came from their own intellectual property, rather than as a result of a corporate creation (e.g., profits from a restaurant, a car business, etc.).

Colluding Reporters?

As noted above, Bloomberg News broke the story of Biden’s tax plan. Its story mentioned not a word about how Biden’s plan omitted the Obama proposal on self-employment taxes, or Biden’s history of questionable tax maneuvers. The silence comes as Bloomberg said it would not conduct investigative reporting into declared candidate, and Bloomberg News owner, Michael Bloomberg’s rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination—but would continue to investigate President Trump.

At some point, reporters should stop colluding with each other to avoid investigations into Joe Biden’s sordid tax history. And they should start asking why a candidate who has campaigned on preserving and building upon Obamacare didn’t want to pay the taxes that fund it.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Rant by Congressional Spouse Illustrates the Problem Facing American Health Care

Last week, the wife of Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) went on a self-described “rant on social media” about her health coverage.

Amanda Cunningham’s comments echo claims by Democratic lawmakers like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) about the problems with their health coverage. For many members of Congress that comes via Obamacare-compliant policies sold on health insurance exchanges.

The comments raise one obvious question: If Democrats don’t like Obamacare plans for themselves, then why did they force all Americans to buy this insurance under penalty of taxation? But beyond demonstrating the bipartisan dissatisfaction with Obamacare, Amanda Cunningham’s story illustrates the larger problems plaguing the American health care system.

Mental Health Parity

In her Instagram post, Cunningham complained that under her Blue Cross Blue Shield policy, “all of my mental health therapy sessions are denied, in addition to all of our marriage counseling sessions.” She continued: “It’s just mind-blowing to me that these basic well-known needs, that mental health is health care, are still being denied, that we’re still fighting for these absolutely basic things—it’s unbelievable to me.”

Cunningham didn’t go into many specifics about her case, but on one level, her argument sounds compelling. The opioid crisis has shone a brighter spotlight on the people who need treatment to cover mental illness or substance use disorders. Congress passed mental health parity legislation (as part of the TARP bill, of all things) in 2008, and Section 1311(j) of Obamacare extended these provisions to exchange plans.

Other People’s Money

On the other hand, consider that members of Congress receive a salary of $174,000 annually—more than most Americans (myself included). Consider also that unlike all other Americans purchasing coverage on Obamacare exchanges (myself included), Cunningham, other members of Congress, and their staff receive (likely illegal) subsidies offsetting much of the cost of their health insurance premiums.

More importantly, consider that each coverage requirement on insurers—whether to cover a certain type of treatment (e.g., mental health, in-vitro fertilization, etc.) or treatments provided by a certain type of provider (e.g., marriage counselor, podiatrist, etc.)—raise the price of health insurance each month. Collectively, the thousands of mandates imposed nationwide increase premiums by hundreds of dollars per year.

They also send a paternalistic message to Americans: The policy-makers who impose these coverage requirements would rather individuals go uninsured, because their premiums have become unaffordable, than purchase a plan without the covered benefit or treatment in question.

She didn’t say it outright, but in her “rant,” Cunningham wanted to raise premiums on other Americans—most of whom earn far less than her family—so she would receive “free” therapy. Viewed from this perspective, her objections seem somewhat self-serving from a family in the upper tier of the income spectrum.

Therein lies the problem of American health care: Everyone wants to spend everyone else’s money rather than their own. Everyone wants “their” treatments—in this case, Cunningham’s counseling sessions—covered, even if others pay more. And if their chosen therapies are covered by insurance, with little to no cost-sharing, patients will consume more health care, because they believe they are spending their insurer’s money rather than their own.

Obamacare Made It Worse

The 2010 health care law didn’t cause this problem. However, as the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) noted in its November 2009 analysis of the legislation’s premium impacts, the federal benefit requirements included in the measure raised insurance rates significantly:

Because of the greater actuarial value and broader scope of benefits that would be covered by new nongroup policies sold under the legislation, the average premium per person for those policies would be an estimated 27 percent to 30 percent higher than the average premium for nongroup policies under current law (with other factors held constant). The increase in actuarial value would push the average premium per person about 18 percent to 21 percent above its level under current law, before the increase in enrollees’ use of medical care resulting from lower cost sharing is considered; that induced increase, along with the greater scope of benefits, would account for the remainder of the overall difference.

In CBO’s view, the law required people to buy richer insurance policies, and those richer policies encouraged people to consume more health care, both of which led to a rise in premiums. Unfortunately, that rise in premiums over the past several years has led millions of individuals who do not qualify for insurance subsidies (unlike Amanda Cunningham) to drop their coverage.

Get the Incentives Right

Sooner or later, our country will run out of other people’s money to spend on health care. Despite her impassioned plea, only a movement away from the solutions Cunningham advocated for can prevent that day from coming sooner rather than later.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Democrats’ Taxing Health Care Promises

July’s Democratic presidential debates left seasoned health policy professionals confused, struggling to understand both the candidates’ policies and the differences among them. But working families should find Democrats’ health care debate taxing for another reason. For all their vows that Americans can obtain unlimited “free” health care while only “the rich” will pay, the major candidates are writing out checks that will end up on middle class families’ tab.

In this debate, Bernie Sanders wins credit for candor, in the sense that he has dissembled less than his opponents. Admitting that his single-payer plan will require tax hikes, in April Sanders proposed a 4% income tax, along with a 7.5% payroll tax, among other revenue increases to fund his system.

Unfortunately for Sanders, however, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget believes the tax increases he has proposed to date will pay for only about half of the more than $30 trillion cost of his single-payer scheme. In that, the organization echoes experience from Sanders’ home state of Vermont. In 2014, Gov. Peter Shumlin abandoned efforts to enact a state-based single payer system, because the accompanying tax increases created “a risk of an economic shock.” Shumlin said single payer in Vermont would have required a 9.5% income tax, and an 11.5% payroll tax—far higher levels than Sanders has proposed.

While Sanders admits that the middle class will pay more taxes to fund single payer, both he and Elizabeth Warren argue that families will save overall, because the program would eliminate premiums, deductibles, and other forms of cost-sharing. Unfortunately, studies from across the political spectrum—from the conservative Heartland Institute to former Clinton Administration official Kenneth Thorpe—disagree.

In 2016, Thorpe concluded that 71% of households would pay more under a Sanders plan fully funded by tax increases. Low-income households would get hit even worse, with 85% of families on Medicaid paying more. Since then, Sanders has only increased the generosity of his single-payer proposal, meaning taxes on the middle class could rise even more than Thorpe originally estimated.

Perhaps to elide the tax landmines, Kamala Harris’ plan breaks with Warren and Sanders, delaying the move to a single payer system for a decade. She claims the delay “will lower the overall cost of the program”—but only until the program phases in fully. At that point, her pledge not to raise taxes on families making under $100,000 will prove unsustainable. But if Harris has her way, a 10-year delay until full implementation of single-payer could punt the tax problem to her successor.

As for Joe Biden, he has tried to portray himself as protecting middle class families from the tax hikes he calls inevitable under the other major contenders’ plans. But Biden has two problems.

First, Biden supports restoring Obamacare’s individual mandate penalty, which Republicans eliminated in 2017. The Supreme Court in 2012 dubbed the mandate a tax—and that tax happens to hit the middle class hard. The most recent IRS data show that in 2016, of the $3.6 billion in mandate penalties paid by American households, nearly 63% came from households with incomes of under $50,000, and more than 88% came from households with incomes below $100,000.

Second, as the Wall Street Journal reported back in July, Biden over the past two years deliberately utilized tax loopholes to avoid paying Obamacare taxes. By classifying more than $13 million in proceeds from books and speeches as profits from his corporations, rather than wage income, Joe and Jill Biden circumvented nearly $500,000 in self-employment taxes—taxes that fund Obamacare and Medicare.

Biden’s behavior, which multiple experts interviewed by the Journal called legally questionable, belies both his “Middle Class Joe” reputation and his support for Obamacare. Apparently, Biden supports Obamacare only if someone else will pay for it. But if a one-percenter like Joe Biden finds paying for the Affordable Care Act unaffordable for him, then whom would Biden hit to pay the $750 billion price tag of his Obamacare expansion efforts? Why, the middle class, of course.

Biden’s unwillingness to pay the taxes associated with an Obamacare law he purportedly wants to protect epitomizes Margaret Thatcher’s axiom that socialists eventually run out of other people’s money. At the rate he and his fellow candidates are racking up costly health care promises, that moment seems very near at hand.

This post was originally published at The Daily Wire.

How Joe Biden Deliberately Avoided Paying Obamacare Taxes

In the campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden has portrayed himself as Obamacare’s biggest defender. His health care plan, released this month, pledges to “protect the Affordable Care Act” and states that he “opposes every effort to get rid of this historic law.”

However, his campaign rhetoric in support of Obamacare overlooks one key fact: For the past two years, Joe Biden structured his financial dealings specifically to avoid paying a tax that funds “this historic law,” along with the Medicare program.

While the Bidens paid federal income taxes on all their income, they did not have to pay self-employment taxes on these millions of dollars in profits. The Bidens saved as much as $500,000 in self-employment taxes by taking most of their compensation as profits from the corporation, as opposed to salary.

The Journal cited multiple tax experts who called the Bidens’ move “pretty aggressive,” and a “pretty cut and dried” abuse of the system. Given that most of their income came from writing and speaking engagements, one expert called that income “all attributable to [their] efforts” as individuals and thus wage income, rather than a broader effort by any corporation resulting in profits.

Most important to Biden’s political future is what that foregone self-employment tax revenue would have funded. Section 9015 of Obamacare increased the tax’s rate from 2.9 percent to 3.8 percent for all income above $200,000 for an individual, and $250,000 for a family. By taking comparatively small salaries from their S corporations and receiving most of their income as profits from those corporations, the Bidens avoided paying a tax that funds an Obamacare law Joe Biden claims he wants to defend.

Moreover, the other 2.9 percent in self-employment tax helps finance the Medicare program, which faces its own bleak fiscal future. According to the program trustees, the program will become insolvent by 2026, just seven years from now. If people like Joe Biden use tax strategies to avoid paying self-employment taxes, Medicare’s date of insolvency will only accelerate.

During the last presidential election cycle, Sen. Bernie Sanders repeatedly returned to Hillary Clinton’s paid speeches before companies like Goldman Sachs. Both the more than $100 million in income Bill and Hillary Clinton generated from their speeches, and Hillary Clinton’s insouciance at the vast sums she received—“That’s what they offered,” she said of the $675,000 sum Goldman Sachs paid her to give three speeches—made her look out-of-touch with the concerns of families struggling to make ends meet.

Likewise, Biden’s 2020 competitors almost certainly will use the questions about his taxes to undermine his image as “Middle Class Joe.” Few middle-class families will make in a lifetime the $15.6 million in income that the Bidens received in but two years. Moreover, how can Joe Biden claim to defend Obamacare—let alone Medicare—when he created a tax strategy specifically to avoid paying taxes that fund those two programs?

In 2014, Barack Obama, whose administration proposed ending the loophole the Bidens used to avoid self-employment taxes, attacked corporations for seeking to migrate to lower-tax jurisdictions overseas: “It is true that there are a lot of things that are legal that probably aren’t the right thing to do by the country.” In Joe Biden’s case, his tax behavior probably wasn’t the right thing to help his political future either.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Nancy Pelosi and Entitlement “Reform”

This afternoon, USA Today published an op-ed from former Speaker Pelosi expressing her opposition to an increase in the Medicare retirement age.  Pelosi claimed that “We can do better – and we have.  Democrats are the only ones who have enacted a plan that extends the solvency of Medicare without cutting benefits through [Obamacare].”

Pelosi’s claims are particularly ironic, because last November, one leading Democrat admitted that the party “took a half a trillion dollars out of Medicare in [Obamacare], the health care bill” to pay for Obamacare’s new programs.  That speaker?  Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi is right about one thing: We CAN do better – better than Obamacare.  And we should take no lessons on entitlement “reform” from someone who by her own admission “took half a trillion dollars out of Medicare” to pay for more new unsustainable federal programs.

The Left Defends an Inefficient Medicare System

One well-hidden fact in yesterday’s Kaiser Family Foundation report regarding premium support is this – even the Kaiser Foundation admits that in half the country, private Medicare Advantage plans are more efficient than government-run Medicare.  Take a look at the summary on page 4:

Among beneficiaries in the traditional Medicare program [under a premium support proposal], about half (53%) – 18.5 million beneficiaries – would be expected to pay higher Medicare premiums for coverage under the traditional Medicare program, because about half of beneficiaries in the traditional Medicare program live in counties where traditional Medicare costs were higher than the benchmark.

What that sentence means is that, in about half of the country, seniors private Medicare Advantage plans are cheaper than government-run Medicare.  Under premium support, these seniors would not have to pay more to afford coverage – they could switch to a cheaper private plan, or pay more to maintain their more expensive coverage.

The Kaiser report is far from the only study finding that private plans are more efficient than Medicare in many, if not most, areas of the country.  Whereas the Kaiser report said that Medicare Advantage plans are less costly in about half the country, former Congressional Budget Office Director Alice Rivlin found an even higher number.  Rivlin testified before the Ways and Means Committee in April that “88 percent of Medicare beneficiaries live in areas in which a bidding process [for premium support] would produce a second-lowest bid below the current cost of FFS [traditional] Medicare.”  And a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that private plans would be 9% cheaper than traditional Medicare under a premium support proposal.  So there is much evidence to suggest that Medicare Advantage plans can provide health care for seniors at lower costs – which would help make Medicare more sustainable over the long term.

Of course, the Left wants nothing to do with such facts, preferring instead to cling to the shibboleth of government-run Medicare as a first step towards socialized medicine for all.  As we noted yesterday, the Kaiser report obscures the reasons for its findings – it trumpets the talking point of higher costs for seniors under premium support, but fails to highlight the fact that in many cases, those higher costs are because government-run Medicare is less efficient than private plans.  Likewise, the Commonwealth Fund, in releasing a study on Medicare Advantage today, claimed that “the Medicare Advantage program must work just as well as traditional Medicare” and that Obamacare “will make that possible.”

The facts suggest that the Medicare Advantage program can actually work better than traditional Medicare – and at lower costs.  The only problem is that the Commonwealth Fund, the Obama Administration, and the “professional left” don’t want to make that possible.  And so the same crowd that complained so loudly about “wasteful overpayments” to private Medicare Advantage plans now wants to keep making wasteful overpayments to government-run Medicare – merely to satisfy their government-centric ideology.

Peter Orszag’s “Fairy” Tale

Former Obama Administration Budget Director Peter Orszag published a Bloomberg op-ed this morning in which he criticized conservative proposals to introduce premium support in Medicare.  He claims that the “private market tooth fairy” can’t cut costs – arguing that the Congressional Budget Office doubted this premise, and that any cost differentials between government-run Medicare and private plans would be based on private plans treating healthier patients than traditional Medicare.

Orszag claims that CBO said that the private plans in the House Republican premium support proposal would be more expensive for beneficiaries than traditional Medicare.  But that’s only a quarter-truth, at best.  First, Orszag admitted that he used an out-of-date 2011 CBO report to characterize the 2012 House Republican proposal; he claimed he did so because the 2011 CBO analysis “was the only one that CBO has evaluated in terms of total, not just federal, cost.”

That sleight-of-hand was bad enough – but there’s absolutely no excuse for Orszag’s other key omission, which is that CBO currently has no technical capacity to determine whether or not competition can help reduce health costs.  A recent Health Matters column in CongressDaily (subscription required) pointed out this key flaw in CBO’s estimating models:

[CBO] Director Douglas Elmendorf told the House Budget Committee in 2011, his office doesn’t have the ability to account for any cost decreases (or increases, for that matter) that could come from competition between private plans.  “We are not applying any additional effects of competition on this growth rate over time in our analysis of your proposal.  And, again, we don’t have the tools, the analysis, we would need to do a quantitative evaluation of the importance of those factors,” Elmendorf said….

CBO’s current estimate puts the effects of competition at zero, which Gail Wilensky, a former head of Medicare and Medicaid in the George H.W. Bush administration, says is an even worse assumption than making some sort of educated guess.  “You know it’s not zero, that’s the complete cop-out,” Wilensky said in an interview.  “Their assumption is zero; it’s a very specific assumption, and it’s the one thing that’s definitely not accurate.”

Before joining the Obama Administration, Orszag served as Elmendorf’s predecessor as CBO Director.  He knows that this lack of capacity on the effects of competition is a MAJOR hole in the organization’s technical capacities – in fact, one could assign him at least some responsibility for failing to develop those models during his time as CBO Director.  Yet he mentioned none of this in the op-ed.

Instead, Orszag spent time criticizing the process of risk adjustment – in which plans with sicker-than-average beneficiaries receive higher payments than plans with healthier-than-average patients, to compensate the former for their higher costs and discourage plans from attempting to game the system.  Orszag alleges that risk adjustment is imperfect – which is true – but goes on to say that risk adjustment is so imperfect that private plans could still undermine traditional Medicare by soliciting healthier patients, despite the risk adjustment methods in place.  Orszag’s argument would sound slightly more genuine were it not for this paragraph included in Section 1343(b) of Obamacare:

(b) CRITERIA AND METHODS.—The Secretary, in consultation with States, shall establish criteria and methods to be used in carrying out the risk adjustment activities under this section.  The Secretary may utilize criteria and methods similar to the criteria and methods utilized under part C or D of title XVIII of the Social Security Act.  Such criteria and methods shall be included in the standards and requirements the Secretary prescribes under section 1321.

In other words, Obamacare explicitly grants HHS the authority to impose the risk adjustment methods currently being used in Medicare Advantage – the exact same methods that Orszag claims will undermine traditional Medicare.  If those Medicare Advantage risk adjustment methods are so flawed, as Orszag claims, then why did the Obama Administration – of which Orszag himself was a member – permit them to be used in Obamacare Exchanges as well?

Orszag’s column got this much right – there is a “fairy” tale regarding premium support proposals.  But the real fairy tale lies in the inconvenient truths Orszag himself was unable or unwilling to mention in his supposed critique.

News Flash: Obamacare Did NOT Lower Health Costs

We interrupt this wall-to-wall coverage of the Supreme Court’s ruling to point out yet more evidence that Obamacare did nothing to reduce health costs.  Reuters reported yesterday on a report on health spending from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD):

Growth in health spending reversed a long-term trend of rapid increase and either slowed or fell in real terms in most OECD countries in 2010…Overall health spending grew by nearly 5 percent a year in real terms in the 34 countries…between 2000-2009, but this was followed by zero growth in 2010…The OECD also said preliminary figures for a limited number of countries suggest there was little or no growth in health spending in 2011.

In other words, the slowdown in American health care spending is nothing unusual – it’s happening worldwide.  And it is NOT occurring because of Obamacare; it’s taking place because of the global economic downturn.  Spending growth has been slower than projected NOT because Obamacare worked, but because the Obama “stimulus” didn’t.

What IS unusual about American health care is the growth in government spending on health programs.  The OECD found that “the health in total health spending in 2010 was driven by a fall of 0.5 percent in public spending for health, following an increase of over 5 percent per year in 2008 and 2009.”  So while other governments are reducing spending on health programs and entitlements, the United States – at a time of trillion-dollar deficits – is embarking on a $2.6 trillion coverage expansion.  It’s one more sign that under Obamacare, government spending really is doing fine.

I Thought Health “Reform” WAS Entitlement Reform…

The President just said “we have to reform Medicare to strengthen it.”  That’s an interesting assertion, seeing as how his Administration previously argued for more than a year that “health care reform is entitlement reform.”  So in now stating that Medicare needs further reform, the President is admitting that his reform failed to achieve its stated objective.

The fact is that Obamacare made Medicare’s fiscal situation WORSE, because non-partisan budget analysts have admitted that the health care law uses more than $500 billion in Medicare funds to pay for new entitlements – provisions that do NOT improve Medicare’s solvency.  For instance, Medicare actuary Richard Foster has written that the Medicare provisions in Obamacare “cannot be simultaneously used to finance other Federal outlays (such as the coverage expansions under the PPACA) and to extend the [Medicare] trust fund, despite the appearance of this result from the respective accounting conventions.”   And the Congressional Budget Office has written that the Medicare provisions in Obamacare “would not enhance the ability of the government to pay for future Medicare benefits.”

Speaker Pelosi famously said we had to pass the bill to find out what’s in it.  Perhaps Democrats have finally taken her advice, to discover how Obamacare uses more than half a trillion dollars in Medicare savings – not to improve Medicare’s fiscal situation, but to create new and unsustainable entitlements.