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Two years ago, President Obama and the GOP agreed to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. Today, prospects for any agreement between Democrats and Republicans before the November elections are murky at best.

Uncertainty Grows Over Fate of Bush-Era Tax Cuts

  • 5/10/2012

Bush-Era Tax Cuts: Background

Two years ago, President Obama and the Republicans agreed to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, along with the so-called tax extenders in the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 (2010 Tax Relief Act). Today, prospects for any agreement between Democrats and Republicans before the November elections are murky at best. The likelihood of a lame-duck Congress deciding the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts increases daily. Also grow­ing daily is the uncertainty many taxpayers face in tax planning for 2013 and beyond.

Impact: The Congressional Budget Of­fice (CBO) has estimated that extend­ing all of the Bush-era tax cuts would cost $2.84 trillion over 10 years. Unlike 2010, Congress is now confronted with mandatory reductions in federal spending under the Budget Control Act of 2011 (2011 Budget Control Act), which the CBO has estimated will total approximately $109 billion per year starting in January 2013. Moreover, the 2011 Budget Control Act provides for enforcing the spending limits through sequestration. This added demand on resources, together with a still-fragile economy and a ticking clock on entitlement reform, is creating what has been termed a “fiscal cliff” by some, and “taxmageddon or “taxopocalypse” by others. By any name, they present difficult choice for Congress.

What’s involved?

“Bush-era” tax cuts is the collective term for the tax measures enacted in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) and the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA). In addition to the individual, capital gains, dividends, and estate tax rates that remain the focus of the attention, EGTRRA made more than 30 other major changes to the tax code that are about to sunset. The 2010 Tax Relief Act extended all of these measures through 2012. EGTRRA also made many changes to retirement and pension rules in the tax code. These changes were made permanent by the Pension Protection Act of 2006.

Impact: Rather than just waiting for Congress to act, taxpayers should con­sider implementing certain protective tax strategies now. To maximize benefits, advance planning that considers a num­ber of “what ifs” should be undertaken soon. With budget pressures looming, the likelihood that all EGTRRA and JG­TRRA expiring provisions will be rolled over for one or two more years into 2013 and 2014 is highly unlikely. Therefore, a strategy that accelerates tax benefits that are now available deserves careful consideration.

Tax reform solution?

Since the two-year extension of EGTRRA and JGTRRA by the 2010 Tax Relief Act, several proposals for comprehensive tax reform have been unveiled in Washington. These may hold promise for a more permanent solution. A presidential panel developed the so-called Simpson-Bowles plan. The GOP has put forward several proposals for comprehensive tax reform, also calling for reduced individual income tax rates, while both parties have struggled to strike a “grand bargain.” After the November elections, a broader, more permanent solution may be found.

Comment: IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman and other officials have warned that late legislation will likely delay the start of the 2013 filing season. The IRS delayed the start of the 2011 filing season to Feb­ruary 14, 2011, after passage of the 2010 Tax Relief Act. The delay affected taxpayers claiming itemized deductions on Form 1040, Schedule A; the higher education tuition deduction; and other tax benefits.

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