Value-Added Tax (VAT) – What You Need to Know

Hey – you know we have a debt crisis, right?

A VAT could reduce the deficit and its announcement would signal to foreign investors that we’re serious about deficit reduction, reducing our long-term interest rates and making it easier to borrow.

a VAT is Coming Soon

President Barack Obama’s bipartisan commission to fix our long-term deficit crisis held its first meeting on April 27. But a couple of weeks ago, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a symbolic measure rejecting an important tool to restore fiscal sanity to the budget: the value-added tax. To which you might respond: a what?

Americans like to think of our country as exceptional. Our tax system certainly is. The United States is the world’s only developed nation without a national broad-based consumption tax. As a result, our taxes hit income harder than most countries. Nearly 38 percent of our overall tax take comes from the individual income tax. The OECD average is 25 percent.

As our gaping deficit commands more attention in Washington, some lawmakers and policy gurus are talking about making America a little less exceptional by creating a national consumption tax. That sounds scary. So let’s back up and explain some things about a value-added tax, or VAT: why we might need it, how it would work, and what liberals and conservatives are saying about it.

Here’s why we need it: If you think the deficit looks bad now, wait a few years. Rising health care costs for retired baby boomers will push U.S. debt levels past their World War II-levels. But whereas WWII ended and we owed that debt to ourselves, our entitlement system is woven into American life and we owe half the resulting debt to foreign countries. Approaching this challenge will require some combination of robust growth, spending cuts, entitlement reform and more tax revenue.

Where should this tax revenue come from? There are three reasonable sources. First, some revenue should come from cleaning out the underbrush of special interest deductions and exemptions that hide hundreds of billions of dollars from taxes. But every tax code in the world molds to the interests of the public, and dramatically reducing these carve-outs is unlikely. Second, some revenue should come from higher income taxes on the rich, whose total tax rates have fallen consistently over the last 40 years — while spending grew. But higher taxes on the rich alone won’t close the deficit. That brings us to revenue-source number three: we will have to raise taxes on lower- and middle-class families, and the VAT is probably the most efficient, most equitable, and most non-distortionary way to do it.

So what is a value-added tax, anyway? What it sounds like: a consumption tax on the “value added” at each stage of production. Here’s how that works: Imagine a $1 loaf of bread you buy from the supermarket with a VAT of 10%. You’ve got a farmer, a baker, and a supermarket in the production chain. The farmer grows the wheat and sells it to the baker. The baker makes a loaf, sells it to the supermarket. The supermarket sells the loaf to me. Each link on the production chain pays the government 10% of the price of its product minus 10% of the price it paid for the goods to make that product. Ultimately, the government collects a total of 10 cents on the $1 loaf. At the supermarket, I pay the bread price plus the VAT: $1.10.

Maybe that sounds complicated. But it’s actually much easier to collect VAT than a national retail sales tax because there is a counterparty to every transaction. The baker can try to avoid paying her share of VAT. But the government will see that the supermarket reported the purchase of her bread, and it can go to the baker and say “you forgot to report your sales.” With the individual income tax, we ask the IRS to police tax evaders. With a VAT, the production chain helps to police itself.

For most Americans, this is all happening under the hood. All we would see are higher prices and less overall consumption. Who could want such a thing?

Maybe all of us. Remember that debt crisis? A VAT could reduce the deficit and its announcement would signal to foreign investors that we’re serious about deficit reduction, reducing our long-term interest rates and making it easier to borrow. What’s more, if a tax on consumption discourages some consumption, it might encourage Americans to save more, which might not be such a bad thing considering an avalanche of consumer debt added to the last recession.

Finally, the politics. Conservatives and liberals have different objections to the VAT, but many of them are misguided. Conservatives don’t like the VAT because it’s an efficient, invisible tax — a “money machine.” But one look at our deficit projections is enough to tell you that we need a money machine, as Reagan economic adviser Bruce Bartlett wrote. Conservatives also worry that “invisible” taxes like a VAT would enable the government to grow bigger. The evidence does not agree. “Tax visibility is empirically unrelated to the amount of taxation and government spending,” economist Casey Mulligan concluded.

On the other side, liberals worry that a tax on consumption will hit the poorest the hardest, because lower-income Americans spend more of what they make. But policy makers could solve this regressivity in many ways. Most simply, pairing the VAT with a tax credit for poorer families could actually make the tax progressive. They could also spare some common products from the VAT (indeed, no country’s VAT extends over the entire economy, and realistically an American VAT would probably hit only about a third of GDP). Lawmakers would also probably introduce a VAT in exchange for some combination of cuts to income, payroll, or corporate taxes.

Of course, a VAT could take years to set up and special interests would carve it up with exemptions, just as they have for the rest of the tax system. But there are reasons for both liberals and conservatives to support the VAT. Conservatives want a tax system with a broader base and lower marginal rates. Liberals want to protect programs like Medicare and education spending with new taxes that don’t overburden lower-income families. A VAT would serve both interests.

by Derek Thompson
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

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The Gov’s Tax Revenues are down 25% – They will Tax You!

The government is “doing as much possible to increase amount of taxes it receives,”. “It will increase revenues, any way they can – starting from all business and then the consumers. We are in a massive tax and spend environment.

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Obama empties out the nation’s purses

Obama, in his first 100 days will add more to our nation’s public debt than all previous presidents combined.

When Obama said, “It’s time for change” he meant it’s time to drop your hard earned coin into the government’s coffers!

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans say President Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office can be summed up in three words: spending, taxing and borrowing.

In the party’s weekly radio and Internet address, Rep. Lynn Jenkins chided Obama and Democrats in Congress for pushing through a $787 billion stimulus package and a $3 trillion federal budget for next year that she said will waste taxpayers’ dollars and burden future generations.

“The plans they’ve passed in the first 100 days will add more to our nation’s public debt than all previous presidents combined in 200-plus years,” said the Kansas Republican, a former state treasurer. “They’ve taken away President Obama’s promised middle-class tax cut and paved the way for a new national energy tax to be paid by every American who dares to flip on a light switch.”

Pointing to the stimulus package, Jenkins contended millions of dollars have already needlessly gone for a homeless program in a town which doesn’t have such a problem, an artwalk in New York as well as sidewalks and trash cans outside a Michigan casino.

“This bill was supposed to be about jobs, but it’s gone off the rails in practically no time at all,” she said. “It’s quickly turning into a symbol of everything wrong with Washington, D.C. — unchecked spending, no accountability and oversight.”

Jenkins said Republicans believe they can help rebuild people’s savings, revitalize the housing market and create “twice as many jobs as the Democrats’ ‘stimulus’ at half the cost.”

“Middle-class families and small businesses across America are tightening their belts and making sacrifices each and every day during this recession, and Republicans believe that it’s time for Washington to do the same,” she said.

Where the $200,000+ Crowd Lives

Where the $200,000+ Crowd Lives

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by Paul Toscano
Friday, February 27, 2009
The White House’s budget for fiscal year 2010 calls for tax  hikes on wealthy Americans.  In this case, that means couples making over $250,000 a  year and individuals $200,000 a year. Under the budget plan, these households  (about 3 percent of the total) would experience tax increases of $318 billion over the next 10 years.  Here’s a look at the states that will be most affected by the tax hike and how they voted in the last presidential election.

Source: US Census Bureau (Housing Data), MSNBC (Election Data)

1. District of Columbia

% of Households Earning $200K+: 8.4%
Total Households: 251,039
Median Income: $50,318
Households Earning $200K+: 21,194

Election Results:
Obama: 93%
McCain: 7%

2. Connecticut

% of Households Earning $200K+: 8.0%
Total Households: 1,320,714
Median Income: $64,158
Households Earning $200K+: 105,433

Election Results:

Obama: 61%
McCain: 38%

3. New Jersey

% of Households Earning $200K+: 7.5%
Total Households: 3,149,910
Median Income: $65,249
Households Earning $200K+: 235,278

Election Results:
Obama: 57%
McCain: 42%

4. Maryland

% of Households Earning $200K+: 6.9%
Total Households: 2,082,458
Median Income: $65,552
Households Earning $200K+: 142,694

Election Results:
Obama: 62%
McCain: 37%

5. (Tie) Massachusetts

% of Households Earning $200K+: 6.2%
Total Households: 2,449,133
Households Earning $200K+: 152,348
Median Income: $57,681

Election Results:
Obama: 62%
McCain: 36%

5. (Tie) California

% of Households Earning $200K+: 6.2%
Total Households: 12,200,672
Households Earning $200K+: 757,411
Median Income: $56,311

Election Results:
Obama: 61%
McCain: 37%

7. Virginia

% of Households Earning $200K+: 5.7%
Total Households: 2,932,234
Households Earning $200K+: 165,998
Median Income: $58,950

Election Results:
Obama: 53%
McCain: 46%

8. New York

% of Households Earning $200K+: 5.6%
Total Households: 7,099,940
Households Earning $200K+: 399,014
Median Income: $49,267

Election Results:
Obama: 62%
McCain: 37%

9. Hawaii

% of Households Earning $200K+: 4.5%
Total Households: 439,685
Households Earning $200K+: 19,876
Median Income: $63,104

Election Results:
Obama: 72%
McCain: 27%

10. Illinois

% of Households Earning $200K+: 4.4%
Total Households: 4,759,579
Households Earning $200K+: 208,385
Median Income: $51,279

Election Results:
Obama: 62%
McCain: 37%

11. New Hampshire

% of Households Earning $200K+: 4.2%
Total Households: 501,505
Households Earning $200K+: 20,899
Median Income: $65,652

Election Results:
Obama: 54%
McCain: 45%

12. Colorado

% of Households Earning $200K+: 4.1%
Total Households: 1,859,965
Households Earning $200K+: 76,216
Median Income: $59,209

Election Results:
Obama: 54%
McCain: 45%

13. Washington

% of Households Earning $200K+: 4.0%
Total Households: 2,501,509
Households Earning $200K+: 99,636
Median Income: $57,178

Election Results:
Obama: 57%
McCain: 41%

14. Texas

% of Households Earning $200K+: 3.9%
Total Households: 8,244,022
Households Earning $200K+: 313,681
Median Income: $45,294

Election Results:
Obama: 44%
McCain: 56%

15. Minnesota

% of Households Earning $200K+: 3.8%
Total Households: 2,062,681
Households Earning $200K+: 77,772
Median Income: $57,932

Election Results:
Obama: 54%
McCain: 44%