Even though few would disagree that the U.S. tax system is overly complicated and begging for reform, what exactly those reforms should look like is consistently a matter of heated debate.
If the president gets his way, the tax system would change in a variety of ways. Among other proposals, he suggests closing a loophole that allows the wealthy to pass along capital gains tax-free to their heirs. He would also close a separate loophole that would limit the tax benefits on IRAs and other tax-favored accounts for those with balances higher than $3.4 million. Obama also proposes boosting the capital gains rate up to 28 percent (from an existing top rate of 20 percent) for couples earning $500,000 or more, as well as levying a fee on certain financial firms.
Naturally, the reviews of his proposals have been mixed. Conservative business groups responded by saying the tax increases on the wealthy amounted to class warfare that will harm business, while more centrist groups say the proposals could be a reasonable starting point for greater economic fairness.
Here's a look at some of the responses from business and policy groups:
The conservative small business advocacy group National Federation of Independent Business said on its on its website that tax increases would hurt business owners. According to the group's president, Dan Danner:
Most small business owners aren't wealthy. Neither are they helped in the smallest way by higher taxes on anyone else. The President's tax agenda is fair in the way that hurricanes are fair. They hurt everyone. His goal is apparently to ensure that the tax code hurts everyone. A much better idea, and just as fair, would be to bring small business taxes into line with the biggest corporations and the richest individuals. The goal should be to hurt fewer Americans, not more.
The more left-leaning Small Business Majority said it favored the president's proposal to close corporate loopholes, such as inversions, which allow larger companies to shelter their revenues from federal taxation. Here's what its president, John Arensmeyer, had to say:
Many of the plans the president outlined are ones small business owners support, including:
Closing corporate tax loopholes that put small businesses at a disadvantage, and cutting the top corporate tax rates. Small Business Majority's opinion polling found 75 percent of entrepreneurs believe their small business is harmed when big corporations use loopholes to avoid taxes, and 90 percent believe big corporations use loopholes to avoid taxes that small businesses have to pay.
The centrist National Small Business Association said the president's focus on corporate tax reform was one-sided, as most small businesses are taxed at the individual level. NSBA president Todd McCracken said in a written response to last night's State of the Union:
Corporate-only tax reform is a nonstarter for small business. Eighty-three percent of small businesses are pass-through entities and therefore not only will they NOT benefit from corporate-only tax reform, there is a chance they could lose some current deductions, resulting in a higher effective tax rate.
For their part, the various tax and budget groups also divided along partisan lines. The Tax Foundation, for example, which is financed by the conservative Koch brothers and by ExxonMobil, published a blog post that suggested tax increases would significantly weaken the economy:
The centerpiece of President Obama's plan to increase taxes on the wealthy to fund tax credits for the middle-class is increasing the top tax rate on capital gains and dividends for high-income taxpayers.... While the stated intent of the proposal is to target only high-income families, a dynamic analysis indicates that the effect on the economy would not be costless, nor would the impact be solely felt by wealthy taxpayers--all other income groups would see lower after-tax incomes. Moreover, the plan would actually lose tax revenues, not gain them.
The more liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a post from its president, Robert Greenstein, which said Obama's tax proposals would redistribute wealth to the middle class, and thereby benefit the economy:
For too long, tax reform has been thought of as consisting solely of lowering tax rates and broadening the tax base. Such reforms, if well designed, can help the economy. But the President's new proposals constitute an important tax reform that would benefit both the economy and--unlike some other tax reform proposals--very large numbers of ordinary Americans.
Clearly, no consensus will emerge any time soon. But policy experts suggest the discussions over Obama's proposals may be moot anyway. Roberton Williams, a fellow at the Tax Policy Center, a think tank, notes that most of the provisions aren't likely to go anywhere. That's particularly true, as most Republicans have signed anti-tax activist Grover Norquist's pledge not to raise taxes.
"The likelihood of getting anything through Congress is zero," Williams says.