Divergent Visions: GOP Budget Plans Don’t Line Up With US Priorities

New analysis examines how competing federal budget proposals rate in responding to the stated policy priorities of the American people

by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

The competing federal budget proposals will now wind their way through a fractured Congress. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

The differences between the four budget proposals recently put forth by President Barack Obama, both Republican-majority houses of the U.S. Congress, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus are “stark,” according to a new analysis—while some provisions in the GOP blueprints “completely miss the mark in responding to what Americans say they want.”

The National Priorities Project (NPP), a non-profit, non-partisan research organization dedicated to making the federal budget process transparent, released Competing Visions on Friday.

The report compares how each budget proposal responds (or not) to the stated policy priorities of the American people, on key issues including jobs, education, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, food assistance, and military spending, as well as proposed strategies for tax reform and deficit reduction.

“Our analysis shows that, in most spending categories, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the president would do the most to address the priorities voiced by the majority of Americans,” said Jasmine Tucker, research analyst for NPP and author of the report. “In some areas, the House and Senate budget proposals completely miss the mark in responding to what Americans say they want.”

For example, on the issue of taxing the wealthy, according to the NPP analysis:

  • 68 percent of Americans think wealthy households don’t pay enough in taxes.
  • The Obama budget proposal raises top capital gains tax rate to 28 percent and closes the “trust fund loophole” that allows heirs to avoid taxation, raising $208 billion over 10 years. Places limits on tax deductions for top income earners and implements the Buffett Rule ensuring a minimum tax rate for the wealthy. Places limits on tax deductions for top income earners and ends the “carried interest” loophole that benefits hedge fund managers to raise $17.6 billion over 10 years.
  • The House budget calls for comprehensive tax reform that would lower tax rates for individuals and families. Closes some special interest tax loopholes but does not specify which ones. Eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax that sets a minimum tax for the wealthy.
  • The Senate budget contains no proposed changes to the status quo.
  • The CPC proposal raises tax rates for richest 2 percent (earning more than $250,000 per year) to Clinton-era levels, and taxes capital gains investment earnings at higher rates, yielding $1.4 trillion in additional revenue over 10 years. Places a cap on the value of itemized deductions that mostly benefit the wealthy (raising $566 billion over 10 years) and limits other tax deductions for top income earners.

Similar discrepancies exist on almost every issue.

As Tucker put it: “The differences between the four budget proposals are stark, and all signs indicate a difficult budget battle ahead as lawmakers try to resolve widely different approaches despite clear public opinion in favor of certain policies.”

While 70 percent of Americans oppose cuts to food stamps, the House and Senate budget plans would both cut the program.

While 67 percent say improving the education system in the U.S. should be a top priority for the president and Congress this year, the House and Senate allocate no new funding for education—and in fact the House proposal “freezes the maximum Pell grant award at the same level for the next 10 years, provides financial aid to fewer families, and makes substantial cuts to domestic discretionary spending, including education.”

Overall, the House Republican budget would cut $5 trillion in government spending over the next decade, mostly out of programs that low- and moderate-income Americans need and depend on—and say they support. At the same time, it adds $400 million in defense spending—not in line with public opinion polls—and promises to lower tax rates for wealthy Americans and corporations.

The Senate version follows the same basic outlines.

At a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also noted the divergence between GOP policies and the priorities of the general public.

“[T]he rich get much richer, and the Republicans think they need more help,” he said. “The middle class and working families of this country become poorer, and the Republicans think we need to cut programs they desperately need. Frankly, those may be the priorities of some of my Republican colleagues in this room, but I do not believe that these are the priorities of the American people.”


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Fast Food Giants Gorge on Subsidies

Thanks to a loophole that subsidizes CEO pay, McDonald’s, Yum Brands, Wendy’s, Burger King, Domino’s, and Dunkin’ Brands trimmed $64 million from their tax bills in 2011 and 2012.

By Sarah Anderson

Sarah Anderson

The fast food industry is notorious for handing out lean paychecks to their burger flippers and fat ones to their CEOs. What’s less well-known is that taxpayers are actually subsidizing fast food incomes at both the bottom — and top — of the industry.

Take, for example, Yum Brands, which operates the Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut chains. Wages for the corporation’s nearly 380,000 U.S. workers are so low that many of them have to turn to taxpayer-funded anti-poverty programs just to get by. The National Employment Law Project estimates that Yum Brands’ workers draw nearly $650 million in Medicaid and other public assistance annually.

Meanwhile, at the top end of the company’s pay ladder, CEO David Novak pocketed $94 million over the years 2011 and 2012 in stock options gains, bonuses and other so-called “performance pay.” That was a nice windfall for him, but a big burden for the rest of us taxpayers.

Under the current tax code, corporations can deduct unlimited amounts of such “performance pay” from their federal income taxes. In other words, the more corporations pay their CEO, the lower their tax burden. Novak’s $94 million payout, for example, lowered Yum’s IRS bill by $33 million. Guess who makes up the difference?

fast food ceos

My new Institute for Policy Studies report calculates the cost to taxpayers of this “performance pay” loophole at all of the top six publicly held fast food chains — McDonald’s, Yum, Wendy’s, Burger King, Domino’s, and Dunkin’ Brands.

Combined, these firms’ CEOs pocketed more than $183 million in fully deductible “performance pay” in 2011 and 2012, lowering their companies’ IRS bills by an estimated $64 million. To put that figure in perspective, it would be enough to cover the average cost of food stamps for 40,000 American families for a year.

After Yum, McDonald’s received the second-largest government handout for their executive pay. James Skinner, as CEO in 2011 and the first half of 2012, pocketed $31 million in exercised stock options and other fully deductible “performance pay.” Incoming CEO Donald Thompson took in $10 million in performance pay in his first six months on the job. Skinner and Thompson’s combined performance pay translates into a $14 million taxpayer subsidy for McDonald’s.

What makes all this even more galling is that these fast food giants are pocketing massive taxpayer subsidies for their CEO pay while fighting to keep their workers’ wages at rock bottom. All of the big fast food corporations are members of the National Restaurant Association, which is aggressively working to block a raise in the federal minimum wage to a level that would let millions of fast food workers make ends meet without public support.

There’s an easy solution to the perverse “performance pay” loophole. A bill introduced by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) would simply set a firm $1 million cap for executive pay deductions — with no exceptions. Corporations could still pay their CEOs whatever they choose, but at least taxpayers wouldn’t be subsidizing anything above $1 million. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates this legislation would generate more than $50 billion over 10 years.

It makes no sense for employees of highly profitable giant corporations to have to rely on government assistance for basic needs. It makes even less sense for ordinary taxpayers to subsidize the CEOs who are benefiting most from the fast food industry’s low-road business model.

With Congress again mulling deficit-reduction strategies, it’s high time that Washington stopped letting fast food giants gorge on both of these absurd subsidies.


Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and is the author of the new report Fast Food CEOs Rake in Taxpayer-Funded Pay. IPS-dc.org
Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

Loopholes: Putting things in Perspective

Let’s put this into perspective. What programs could we help fund by closing the tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Take a look at this graphic from the Center for American Progress —

Loopholes01

A vast majority of Americans support President Obama’s plan to reduce the deficit and help middle class families. More than 325,000 people like you have already added their name to show their support.

Are you with them? Add your name today:

http://my.barackobama.com/Tell-the-GOP-to-Act