The budget plan produced by the Senate’s “Gang of Six” offers the promise of huge tax breaks for some of the wealthiest people in the country, while lowering Social Security benefits for retirees and the disabled. Despite claiming that they will “reform” Social Security on a “separate track, isolated from deficit reduction,” the plan includes cuts to Social Security that would be felt in less than six months, as the plan calls for a new inflation formula that will reduce benefits by 0.3 percentage points a year compared with currently scheduled benefits. The plan also calls for a process that is likely to reduce benefits further for future retirees.
The proposed cuts to Social Security are cumulative. This means that after ten years, a beneficiary in her 70s will see a cut of close to 3 percent. After 20 years, the cuts for beneficiaries in their 80s will be close to 6 percent, while the reduction in annual benefits will be close to 9 percent by the time beneficiaries are in their 90s. For a beneficiary in her 90s living on a Social Security income of $15,000, this means a loss of more $1,200 a year in benefits.
The plan also calls for large cuts in tax rates including a targeted top rate of between 23-29 percent, which will be at least partially offset by elimination of tax deductions. For the highest-income people, this is likely to mean a very large reduction in taxes. For example, Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, the CEOs of J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs, respectively, are both paid close to $20 million a year at present. If this pay is taxed as ordinary income, then they would be paying close to $7.5 million a year in taxes on it after 2012. However, if the top rate is set at 29 percent, they may save as much as $1.9 million a year on their tax bill. If the top tax rate is set at 23 percent then the Gang of Six plan may increase their after-tax income by more than $3 million a year.
It is striking that the Gang of Six chose to respond to the crisis created by the collapse of the housing bubble by developing a plan that will give even more money to top Wall Street executives and traders. By contrast, the European Union is considering imposing financial speculation taxes to reduce the power of the financial industry and raise more than $40 billion a year in revenue.
The plan calls for substantial cuts elsewhere in the budget which are likely to cut into the incomes of large segments of the population, especially the sick and the elderly. The cuts it proposes to the military are just over 1.0 percent of projected spending over the next decade.
In short, this is a plan that should be expected to please the wealthy since it will mean large reductions in their tax liability in the decades ahead. On the other hand, most of the rest of the country is likely to feel the effects of lower Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits, in addition to other cuts that are not yet fully specified.
Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, including False Profits: Recovering from the Bubble Economy. This statement was issued by CEPR on 19 July 2011.