Tax issues will figure prominently in the goings-on in Washington this presidential election year, with the consensus among tax specialists being that Congress is most likely to address the estate tax when it decides late this year whether to extend the Bush tax cuts.
As it stands now, on Jan. 1, 2013, the estate tax will revert back to the 2001 level, which included a $1 million exemption and a 55% rate, from the current 35% top rate and $5 million portable exemption. When Congress addresses the Bush tax cuts, which will most likely be after the election, “an estate tax compromise will be part of that” discussion, says Jeremy Scott, an editor with Tax Analysts.
Based on the current makeup of Congress, Scott adds, “unless the [presidential] election produces a decisive result, [the rate] that’s in place now will be either permanently extended or extended for at least another 10 years. I would be surprised if the [estate tax] reverted” back to Clinton-era rates. “I think [the rate] will end up somewhere [near] where it is now.”
Another short-term extension, Scott opines, is also unlikely as Congress “doesn’t want to deal with this issue every two years.”
But Robert Miller, president of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, told me that during NAIFA’s “Day on the Hill” in late January, he spoke with at least eight congressmen who said lawmakers would likely “extend the current [estate tax] rates for another year.”
Joe Lieber of Washington Analysis, which conducts research on Washington policy matters for institutional investors, said he expects the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of this year, “meaning that the financial markets will begin to price in a higher dividend rate if they haven’t already.” Expiration of the Bush tax cuts is a significant issue since it would raise taxes on virtually every taxpayer, change the rates on dividends to ordinary income, raise capital gain rates, bring back the marriage penalty, eliminate the child tax credit and raise the alternative minimum tax (AMT).
As for the payroll tax cut extension, which expired on Feb. 29, Lieber says Congress will likely approve a 10-month extension. But Christopher Bergin, president of Tax Analysts, says there’s a danger for Social Security if Congress continues to “extend” the payroll tax cut as opposed to finding a long-term solution. “If [Congress] keeps extending this payroll tax cut there’s a threat to Social Security that no one is talking about, of it not becoming a separate system but just another budget item” for Congress.
President Barack Obama said during his State of the Union speech in January that he wants to let the Bush tax cuts expire. “When it comes to the deficit, we’ve already agreed to more than $2 trillion in cuts and savings. But we need to do more, and that means making choices,” Obama said. “Right now, we’re poised to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.”