Robert McIntyre

Robert S. McIntyre is director of Citizens for Tax Justice and a contributing editor for The American Prospect.

Recent Articles

Tax Wars

N othing so neatly differentiates the presidential candidates as their views on taxes. George W. Bush offers a rather extreme version of what passes for "conservative" fiscal policy these days. This philosophy doesn't tout deficit spending per se , but holds that low taxes, particularly on the wealthy, are the Holy Grail. Many who support this approach hope to starve the government of revenues and eventually shrink public spending. Republican antitax activist Grover Norquist summarizes this position when he argues that "a small government with a big deficit is a lot better than a big government with no deficit." But others in the antitax camp, epitomized by former Representative Jack Kemp , offer the opposite theory. They believe that through the miracle of supply-side economics, tax cuts will so stimulate economic growth that revenues will go up and we will maintain or even expand government programs. Oddly enough, it's not uncommon to hear both conflicting...

The Taxonomist

E arlier this year, soaring gasoline and electricity prices had much of the public outraged at villainous energy profiteers. So, after careful study, the Johnny-one-notes in Washington, D.C., who run the Republican Party concluded that there are only two sensible responses to that particular (albeit since-subsided) "crisis": drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and cut taxes on oil companies and utilities. In August the House passed its version of the Bush energy plan--aka another tax-reduction bill--pretty much on a party-line vote. Republican spinmeisters, who always seem eager to deny the reality of what they're actually doing, insist that the bill is well-balanced, with 37 percent of the new tax breaks allegedly going to encourage conservation, 39 percent to help ensure energy "reliability," and a mere 24 percent for "production" incentives. Well, that's one way to look at it--if, for instance, you're willing to characterize "investment and production credits for...

The Taxonomist:

Many of the country's biggest corporations are once again paying little or nothing in federal income taxes, according to a new study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). Corporations are supposed to pay 35 percent of their profits in taxes. But the 250 companies in ITEP's survey paid only 20.1 percent in 1998. That figure was down from 22.9 percent in 1996 and way below the 26.5 percent big companies paid back in 1988, when they had yet to figure out ways around the loophole-closing 1986 Tax Reform Act. Forty-one companies actually paid less than zero in federal income taxes for at least one year from 1996 to 1998. They reported a total of $25.8 billion in pretax profits. Rather than paying $9 billion in federal income taxes at the 35 percent rate, the companies enjoyed so many excess tax breaks that they received $3.2 billion in rebate checks from the U.S. Treasury. In other words, they made more money after taxes than before!...

The Taxonomist

Sooner than anyone imagined only a few months ago, the inevitable conflict between the Bush tax cuts and public programs has come to a head. In January the Congressional Budget Office told us to expect hundreds of billions of dollars in budget surpluses over the next five years, beyond the buildup in the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. But now the CBO and the White House agree that those surpluses will not exist. Instead, they predict $160 billion to $200 billion in deficits outside of the trust funds from 2001 to 2005--and the actual shortfall is likely to be considerably higher. Notably, most of the blame, says the CBO, goes not to the sagging economy but to Bush's tax cuts. Democrats are in gleeful "I told you so" mode over the recent budget developments. Bush's speech in February pledging that we could have it all--lower taxes, expanded spending, and real debt reduction--was a tour de force. But now that his promise is revealed as a lie, Democrats see an opportunity to...

Why Pay Down the Debt?

I f I understand Max correctly, our main points of disagreement seem to be the following: A couple of times, he challenges the truism that paying off debt now will make it easier for future taxpayers to maintain or enhance public programs--just as Reagan's big debt buildup in the 1980s made it harder to maintain public spending thereafter. But to his credit, he quickly backs off this indefensible assertion, so I'm not going to restate the obvious. He argues that our kids will be rich enough to pay for our Social Security benefits and service, whatever public-debt obligations we happen to leave them. I'm less confident, and think both we and our kids will be better off if we can reduce the government's future interest costs. Max admits that the economy is doing well these days, as reflected by the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years. But he suggests we could do even better with a looser fiscal policy. (He sounds more Kempish...

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