Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Capital-Gains Tax Rises to a Boil in US Capital Bush to Make It Part of Economic-Recovery Package; Analysts Argue Its Effectiveness, Fairness

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Capital-Gains Tax Rises to a Boil in US Capital Bush to Make It Part of Economic-Recovery Package; Analysts Argue Its Effectiveness, Fairness

Article excerpt

THE taxes Americans pay on profits from selling investments - whether in a mutual fund, a brake-and-muffler franchise, or an apartment complex on the edge of town - are the most consistent target of the Bush White House.

At the heart of President Bush's plans to shore up the long-term prospects of the US economy is his proposal to cut the tax rate on investment profits.

Cutting taxes on capital gains has strong support from many Democratic quarters as well. Presidential candidates Bill Clinton and Paul Tsongas, and near-candidate Mario Cuomo, all support narrower, more targeted cuts than the president's.

Two years ago, a sweeping cut in capital- gains taxes won majority support in both houses of Congress, but Senate majority leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine stopped the bill with a procedural move that raised the vote requirement in the Senate.

It was a bitter defeat for the White House. It is why Vice President Dan Quayle calls this the "Mitchell recession."

No serious effort to resurrect a capital-gains tax cut has arisen since. But when President Bush announces his economic recovery plan in late January, a cut in capital-gains taxes will be back on the bargaining table.

But few questions are as loaded and complex as the value and fairness of capital-gains taxes. Capital gains are profits made by selling investments. Since 1986, these profits have been taxed like any other income. Arguments for taxing capital gains differently from regular pay take two forms.

One is that a lower tax promotes investment, raises productivity, and creates jobs. The other is that the current tax is unfair:

*Much of what it taxes as profit is only inflation and not real gain.

*Corporate earnings are taxed twice when a company is sold.

*And investment losses cannot always be deducted from profits, so that taxes can be on higher amounts than one's actual net gain.

The main argument against a cut in the capital-gains tax is also an appeal to fairness. Since the most direct effect would be a tax break to taxpayers with the most wealth and highest incomes, a capital-gains tax cut does not spread its benefits evenly.

Opponents also argue that cutting the investment tax would not spur enough growth to make up for lost tax revenues to the US Treasury. Lower taxes mean a higher budget deficit, which crowds out investment in the private economy. …

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