Envision “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”
Most of us have never actually done that, but we at least entertain the thought when Nat King Cole sings that phrase.
Now, using the same tune, substitute these words — “Hauteans falling off the fiscal cliff.”
Somehow, it feels less festive.
Yes, it is tempting to dive into the partisan bickering over the federal fiscal cliff. The arguments in Washington, in newspapers, on TV, online and on Facebook are truly heart-warming, in the same sense as eating a plate of fresh habaneros. The geekier, less noisy option is to crunch a few numbers, before crunching those roasted chestnuts. That way, you get to the bottom line that Ray Kinsella faced in the movie “Field of Dreams.”
For those who’ve never seen the flick — really? — mysterious voices told Kinsella, a struggling Iowa farmer, to carve a baseball diamond out of his valuable cornfield. After doing so, Kinsella feels snubbed by a team of baseball-legend ghosts and confronts its ringleader, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Kinsella tells Jackson, “I did it all. I listened to the voices, I did what they told me, and not once did I ask what’s in it for me.”
“What are you saying, Ray,” Jackson asks.
Kinsella, stumbling, answers, “I’m saying … what’s in it for me.”
And, truth be told, that is what many Americans want to know about the outcome of the fiscal cliff debate.
“I think that’s what people are asking — how is it going to affect me?” said Roberton Williams, senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the nonpartisan Urban Institute and Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
Instead of wading into the political fray to find the answer, the Tax Policy Center has created one of the best fiscal cliff tax calculators online. (You can find it at calculator.taxpolicy
center.org.) This calculator lets you compare four different outcomes to the negotiations between President Obama and Congress concerning the fiscal cliff. The fiscal cliff buzzword refers to the penalty for congressional inaction on the federal budget, which will impose automatic tax increases on most Americans in 2013, coupled with deep spending cuts to the military, education and other domestic programs on Jan. 1 if Congress and the president can’t agree on a deal.
So, pop in Tony Bennett’s “Snowfall” Christmas album, pull out your 2011 tax returns (to be as accurate as possible), plug in the numbers and let the tax calculator do the math.
The program offers four different fiscal cliff scenarios — a status-quo extension of the current 2012 law; failure to reach an agreement, thus, triggering the automatic fiscal cliff actions; the Senate Republican proposal (offering to close tax loopholes but not to raise tax rates); and the Senate Democratic proposal backed by the president (trimming spending while increasing taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent), which gained momentum as last week progressed. The calculator allows you to compare two outcomes at a time, as in your taxes under the Republican idea vs. your taxes under the Democratic plan.
The calculation may surprise some. About 90 percent of the Republican and Democratic plans mirror each other, Williams said. The primary difference, in terms of a household’s tax calculation, is that lower-income earners would pay more in taxes under the GOP proposal, while top-2-percent earners would pay more under the Democratic plan. The middle-income bracket faces a lesser impact.
Also, it’s important to remember the two-year reduction in the payroll tax — which funds Social Security and Medicare — expires at year’s end, under all four scenarios. (This week, a few members of Congress mentioned adding a payroll-tax-cut extension to the fiscal cliff deliberations, so its inclusion could revise tax calculations.)
The Tax Policy Center’s tax calculator site also summarizes the macro-economic effect of the varying plans, “but it’s really painful to work through that,” Williams said by telephone from Washington on Wednesday. “Therefore, I don’t recommend that.” Instead, the calculator puts the numbers an average person needs to know at the top, such as total tax liability, income-tax liability, average income-tax rate and marginal income-tax rate.
Just to keep the mood light, punch in the tax for a millionaire, Mitt Romney or the president. (The latter two are available online.)
As the calculator crunches on, you also may want to sip egg nog and linger over the alternative minimum tax calculation. In a chestnut shell, the number of middle- and upper-middle income Americans paying the heftier “AMT” could grow from 4 million now to 30 million if its usual adjustment for inflation gets altered by the fiscal cliff bargaining.
“Those are the things that are going to hit people on the fiscal cliff,” Williams said.
All the more reason for Congress to stop arguing, let signs of Republican-Democratic cooperation take root, and get the mess resolved. The gap between the two sides, especially the hard-liners, remains wide. A response from Larry Bucshon, the U.S. House rep from Indiana’s 8th District, to last Sunday’s Tribune-Star editorial exemplified the division. The editorial urged Bucshon and other signers of the Grover Norquist no-tax-increase pledge to find common ground with Democrats and the president through compromise, and back away from the pledge’s rigid stance.
“The Norquist pledge is not holding up anything,” Bucshon answered in an email to the Tribune-Star. “People like myself hold those values or we would not have signed. I don’t sign pledges in general for the reasons many have outlined. What is holding up the process is the President’s envy and divide campaign to raise taxes on the very people we expect to create jobs. The American people should not take the bait, stick together, and help find solutions that work. Raising taxes on the so-called rich to pay for government programs is the holy grail of liberalism. This is a very slippery slope that will ultimately lead to higher taxes on everyone. When they wake up and look at the facts of the case on government spending and the course of our entitlement programs, we might get somewhere. I will not support any taxpayers sending more money to D.C. Both parties for decades have avoided the tough choices that are necessary when you are a leader.”
Some issues, obviously, can’t be solved by the calculator.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or email@example.com.
Envision “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”
Readers’ Forum: Aug. 1, 2014
• Oppose killing, vote for peace
• Unbiased truth of property taxes
• Bravos for plays by young thespians
RONN MOTT: Disc Jockeys
I know this is going to sound a little like “sour grapes,” but it is not. I just passed my 61st anniversary of being involved in radio. I also spent some television time in Canada and did a local TV talk show. But, my main effort was in the good old USA in various radio markets.
EDITORIAL: Greater course loads can mean quicker degrees
The impact of Indiana’s low education attainment level shows up in Hoosiers’ paychecks.
The state ranks 40th in the U.S. in the percentage of residents with college diplomas.
Readers’ Forum: July 31, 2014
• Stamp of approval
• Great job, WAXI
- Readers’ Forum: July 30, 2014
RONN MOTT: Colonoscopy No. 5
I just finished up my fifth colonoscopy last week. It had been seven years since my last one, and since my father and grandfather died of colon cancer I find it advisable to go through this procedure in attempting to live as long as I can.
Readers’ Forum: July 29, 2014
• Anything goes with the liberals
• Deserter does not deserve discharge
• Outrage lacking on IRS scandal
LIZ CIANCONE: Next century? Hope strikes out again for ‘our’ team
It is a case of hope trumping experience that my Best Friend and I looked forward to the 2014 baseball season.
Readers’ Forum: July 28, 2014
• Tea party folks misunderstood
• We have only us to blame
MARK BENNETT: Hall of Memories: Names, images of baseball greats trigger connections to our own past
Baseball Hall of Famers are just people. Totally human. Still, for Americans who follow the national pastime, those players represent a nostalgic connection to summers gone by.
Editorial: Community support crucial for workers facing layoffs
The loss of 150 jobs impacts people — the employees themselves, their families and the community. They need the support of loved ones, friends, neighbors, churches, schools, clubs and local service groups in the search for new work and clarity amid the uncertainty.
- Readers' Forum: July 27, 2014
Flashpoint: Why incumbents keep getting re-elected
Nearly three-quarters of Americans want to throw out most members of Congress, including their own representative, yet the vast majority of incumbents will be returning to Capitol Hill in January.
Flashpoint: Spreading the good word about marriage equality
If you blinked over the past month, you probably missed some news about marriage equality in Indiana.
Ronn Mott: Gaza 2014 — hatred lives on
The rockets’ red glares have turned Gaza, part of the Palestinian authority, into a battleground with Hamas, a legislative terrorist organization that has been stockpiling armaments to use against Israel for years.
- Readers’ Forum: July 25, 2014
RONN MOTT: The Czar of Russia
If you are expecting Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Republic, to react to the crisis in the Ukraine as an ordinary elected official, think again. Even though Putin is the President of the Russian Republic, this is not the job he wants. Putin also doesn’t want to be the chairman of a newly resurrected Communist Party in Russia. No, what he wants is to be the czar of a greater Russia.
Readers’ Forum: July 24, 2014
• Clinic will expand basic health access
• Misunderstanding truth about Islam
EDITORIAL: Work program needs industry buy-in
Good help is hard to find. That’s essentially what Indiana companies have insisted for several years. The state struggles with a “skills gap,” the firms explain. They need employees, but can’t find enough — or in some cases, any — qualified Hoosiers. Businesses say too few applicants possess the “soft skills,” such as showing up for work on time or being able to effectively communicate with co-workers.
- Readers’ Forum: July 23, 2014
RONN MOTT: Dragonfly
The other morning I was moving the canister that holds our recycling material out to the curb when I saw a strange sight. What I saw was a dragonfly fighting with a bee.
FLASHPOINT: News about reality, not affirmation
The public’s trust in the news media keeps dwindling. At the same time, Americans’ political polarization keeps increasing.
LIZ CIANCONE: Chickens as pets always turned out same way
I suppose many of us who grew up on farms or in small towns adopted unusual pets. I had a fondness for chickens. My folks always kept a few chickens, not only to fry or roast, but also for the eggs.
Readers’ forum: July 22, 2014
• Supt. Ritz has right to govern
• A tribute to a teacher
• Rep. Pelosi shows ‘bungling idiocy’
Readers’ forum: July 21, 2014
• Theater brings the joy of music
• Drawing closer to the spirit
• Give some space to heterosexuals
MARK BENNETT: Former Terre Hautean Jim Lovell stood ready as Neil Armstrong’s backup on Apollo 11
The words “Apollo 11” stir optimism in me.
I was an elementary school kid growing up in Vigo County when Neil Armstrong put the first footprint on the moon on July 20, 1969. So much seemed possible
EDITORIAL: Vigo Jail study essential to determine strategy
It comes as encouraging news that the Vigo County Council might include in its 2015 budget significant funding for an expert and neutral study of what can be done to replace or enhance the existing county jail.
Readers’ forum: July 20, 2014
• ‘Hotel Indiana’ has a sour tune
• Kind words about the newspaper
• Some questions about RTL video
• No mercy for cop killers
• Crack down on gun violence
• Anti-Dem tirades mask GOP failures
• Important day for participants
• Appreciation for support
FLASHPOINT: Solve our border crisis
More than 60,000 unaccompanied alien children — mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — have been apprehended on America’s southern border during this fiscal year.
RONN MOTT: World Cup over, but it was fun
After many weeks and many games, the World Cup is over. While the world calls it “futbol,” only we in North America play another brand of football. It is very simple to understand why this is the world’s favorite game … all it takes is an empty lot, a round soccer ball, and you can get a futbol game together.
- More Opinion Headlines
- Readers’ Forum: Aug. 1, 2014