Not taxed enough? Check here to pay more

A person fills out a tax declaration for the 2012 income tax on September 10, 2012

A post in the New York Times Economix blog this morning looks at a House Republican-led proposal to reduce the deficit. It's got an unlikely name, "The Buffett Rule Act of 2012." But no, this is not a millionaire's tax that billionaire Warren Buffett has spearheaded.

Instead, the version passed by the House would let people volunteer to pitch in a little more on their tax bill. There are already some ways to do that, like leaving out some charitable contributions when you deduct from your taxes, as Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, did.

Bruce Bartlett wrote the post for the New York Times Economix blog and has written a book about tax policy. He notes that the Treasury has already collected $7.5 million in voluntary contributions this year. And however unlikely, advocates of this approach could also ask people to forego certain government benefits.

"If the idea is that we are to make personal voluntary contributions to deficit reduction, why should it only be on the tax side?" Bartlett asked, adding, "There are certainly any number of people who are pretty well-to-do who draw Social Security and benefit from other government program." Perhaps their contribution could come in the form of giving up those benefits.

But Bartlett is quick to stress that neither idea can make a real dent in the federal deficit.

"The most that voluntary taxes or voluntary non-taking of benefits is going to add up to is in the millions of dollars," he said, adding, "You've got to have broad based taxation, the federal income tax, the payroll tax."

This other Buffett rule, in Bartlett's estimation, is nothing more than politics.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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We should have another kind of check boxs in the tax form that will allow the tax payers to decide where their tax should be spent. For example, we can a couple of boxes for defense, education, infrastructure, social welfare, etc. The Treasure Department should keep separate account for the taxes paid by tax payers in these boxes, and the government should spend the money accordingly. When the tax payers have more power to say where their money should be spent, they will be more comfortable and willing to pay more taxes. This will also prevent government and politicians to misuse tax payers' money.

If this is too dramatic, then we can start to allow tax payers to allocate 50% of their tax plus the extra that they pay to the boxes/programs that they want to support.

I think this is a great idea because it will let me use the YOU FIRST argument.

You want smaller government, eh? OK. YOU FIRST. You give up your Medicare and Social Security first, then maybe I'll join you.

I hate the Federal bureau for Puppies & Kittens therefore I'd rather not be a chump a send a check to the Feds that will help support BPK. Instead I'd rather support homeless fleas so I'll donate my extra dollars there, maybe. Yes my position sounds ridiclus so is this debate about the budget deficit. Taxes cuts aren't going to solve the problem. Neither will budget cuts alone --- what will happen to my fleas?? We all have to make scarificies --- probably for generations. Tax increases & budget cuts are needed. If we look a reality the tax increases will have to dip into the middle class. Yes those of use under &250K per year. I didn't need the Bush Tax Cut repealling accross the board will not make much of a difference for me and most that are solidly in the middle class. But if you cut the Flea fund that will really get me stratching. Yes some of our favorite programs may get cuts too.

We need leaders that are willing to tell us we need to make hard choices with the budget deficit, energy, intenational relations (okay wars), health care,Social security, medicare, unemployment. and so forth. And this hard choices are need to be for the long term like my great-great grand children or maybe thier grand children. Instead to looking at the next quarters economic numbers or the next election. Or I forgot corporations are people too so the measure is the quarterly report.

Save the fleas outlaw frontflea

How sad to have this much air time devoted to a story on taxes and not a single mention of the real debate. That is, does more total money flow to the federal treasury by lowering taxes and thereby stimulating growth or does increasing taxes on those already paying much more than their fair share bring in more. Yes the Republicans are playing silly politics with this but to miss the opportunity to actually educate the listeners makes Kai and Bruce Barlett no better than those they mock and perpetuates focus on anything but the real issue.

The politics the Republicans are playing are really no worse than the politics of the Buffet rule itself. The additional revenue raised by either won't come close to closing the revenue gap. More disappointing is the notion that Bartlett understands or represents the Republican viewpoint, much like the other favorites of NPR: David Brooks or Mark Zandi. The fact that the former two both write for the New York Times surely isn't lost on the Marketplace staff.

Bartlett and Ryssdal miss the critical point addressed by this latest political theater. If you truly believe you are under taxed, as Buffet and Obama claim they are, then this allows one to directly address the problem instead of submitting a gift to the Treasury. The notion that you can't or won't do what you believe to be the right thing simply because a law doesn't force everyone to do the same highlights the hypocrisy and immaturity of the position. Political theater? Yes. Serious ethical question? Also yes.

Finally, the suggestion that if this were a serious proposal that one should also be allowed to opt out of SS and Medicare on their tax form is a typical Bartlett straw man. One does not apply for or receive entitlements through their tax form, so why should one decline them there? Would Kai think it just as silly as allowing one to drop off their tax returns at the local Social Security office? I suspect so.

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