February 29, 2024

Obama’s Budget Would Cut $1 Trillion From Deficit

Mr. Obama’s budget — one aimed at bringing Republicans to the table to finish a long-term deficit deal, as unlikely as that prospect seems now — includes unpopular cuts to both the Social Security and Medicare programs. His budget would change the calculation used to ensure that Social Security payments keep up with the pace of inflation, for instance, providing less money to retirees over time.

The budget plan also includes almost $1 trillion in tax increases, by further limiting the deductions and exclusions high-income families can claim, increasing taxes on tobacco products and adopting the so-called Buffett Rule, a new minimum tax on income over $1 million.

Compared with the baseline the budget office uses, which assumes no change in current laws, the proposal would widen deficits slightly in the fiscal years 2013 through 2015, but reduce them later on, the budget office said. Starting in 2014, tax increases would bump up revenue by $27 billion to $155 billion a year. Spending would increase by as much as $142 billion a year until 2018, when it would decline beneath the levels indicated by current law.

When it released its budget last month, the Obama White House claimed that it would save $1.8 trillion over 10 years. The difference between its estimate and the Congressional Budget Office’s primarily stems from the fact that the White House assumed the $85 billion in automatic budget cuts known as sequestration — cuts that continue for the next decade — would be repealed or replaced with a new policy. The budget office did not. Other than that, the independent office’s assessment of how the budget proposal would affect spending and revenue mostly differs only marginally from the White House’s.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/18/business/obamas-budget-would-cut-1-trillion-from-deficit.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

U.S. Accuses Novartis of Providing Kickbacks

“Using the lure of kickbacks disguised as rebates, Novartis co-opted the independence of certain pharmacists and turned them into salespeople for one of its drugs,” Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement.

The drug involved, Myfortic, is an immune suppressant used to help prevent rejection of transplanted kidneys. It competes with the Roche drug CellCept and, since 2009, with generic versions of CellCept.

The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, contended that Novartis promised rebates and discounts to 20 or more pharmacies if they would persuade doctors to switch patients to Myfortic from CellCept, or to keep patients on Myfortic after the cheaper generic versions of CellCept reached the market.

Novartis said in a statement that it disputed the government’s claim and would defend itself.

In filing the suit, the federal government is intervening in a whistle-blower lawsuit that remains under seal, as does the identity of the whistle-blower.

Pharmacies can profit if the amount they are paid for a drug by patients, or their insurers, including Medicare and Medicaid, exceeds what they pay to buy the drug. Getting a discount on the drug from a manufacturer can increase a pharmacy’s profit.

Prosecutors say in their lawsuit that Medicare and Medicaid paid tens of millions of dollars in claims for Myfortic that were “tainted” by the kickbacks.

That does not mean, however, that Medicare and Medicaid lost that much. CellCept and Myfortic cost about the same, according to the lawsuit, so switches from the brand name CellCept to Myfortic would not have appreciably raised federal costs.

Moreover, the suit notes, there are hundreds of pharmacies that prescribe Myfortic and the purported kickback scheme involved only about 20 of them, affecting just “hundreds, possibly thousands” of patients.

The suit says, however, that Novartis chose particularly influential pharmacies which could earn tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in rebates.

The suit says that pharmacies couched their advice to doctors to use Myfortic as professional recommendations, concealing any mention of the financial inducement the pharmacy was receiving from Novartis.

While the contracts between Novartis and the pharmacies mentioned the discounts, the commitments Novartis received in return were left out of the contracts, the suit says.

In one example, the suit says that Novartis directed more than $650,000 in kickbacks to Bryant’s Pharmacy in Batesville, Ark., which submitted 8,300 Myfortic claims to Medicare Part B alone, receiving more than $3.2 million in reimbursement.

The suit, citing an internal memo by a Novartis account manager, says Bryant’s drove its annual Myfortic sales to more than $1 million a year from $100,000. And when the generic version of CellCept arrived in 2009, the pharmacy argued to doctors that patients doing well on Myfortic should not be switched.

Steve Bryant, owner of Bryant’s Pharmacy, said doctors made the decisions on which drug to use. He said the discounts were given by Novartis to make it affordable for the pharmacy to dispense Myfortic without losing money from inadequate Medicare reimbursement.

None of the pharmacies was named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Myfortic is one of Novartis’s top 20 drugs, though not a star. Sales in the United States were $239 million in 2012, up 20 percent from 2011. Global sales were $579 million.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/business/us-accuses-novartis-of-providing-kickbacks.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Economix Blog: Q. and A.: Understanding the Fiscal Cliff

In the first two days of 2013, large tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003 will expire and across-the-board cuts to defense and nondefense programs in the government will begin a drastic and sudden hit to the economy — a so-called fiscal cliff — that both parties say could be damaging to the unsteady recovery. Here is a primer on the tax increases and program cuts and their potential impact on the economy.

How large are the prospective tax increases and spending cuts?

Almost everyone who pays taxes would see a hit to take-home pay in the first paycheck of January. The lowest income tax rate would rise to 15 percent from 10 percent. The highest rate would rise to 39.6 percent from 35 percent. The 25 percent, 28 percent, and 33 percent rates would rise to 28 percent, 31 percent and 36 percent respectively. Most capital gains taxes would rise to 20 percent from 15 percent. The tax rate on dividends, now set at 15 percent, would jump to ordinary income tax rates, and since most dividend taxes are paid by the wealthy, that would mean a new dividend tax rate of 39.6 percent. The exemption on taxation of inherited estates would drop to $1 million from $5 million. The tax rate above that exemption would jump to 55 percent from 35 percent.

Even many of the working poor who do not earn enough to face such taxes would take a hit when a temporary, two-percentage-point cut to the payroll tax that funds Social Security and Medicare expires on Jan. 1. In all, taxes would rise by as much as $6 trillion over 10 years, $347 billion in 2013 alone, if the Bush-era tax cuts expire along with the payroll tax cut, and Congress fails to deal with the expanding alternative minimum tax, according to the Congressional Budget Office and Decision Economics Inc., a private economic forecaster.

On the spending side, most defense programs would be sliced by 9.4 percent. Most nondefense programs outside the big entitlements — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — would be cut by 8.2 percent. Medicare would be trimmed by 2 percent. Social Security, veterans benefits, military personnel, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program would be exempt.

What would the economic impact be?

Most economists and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predict that if nothing is done, the twin impacts of broad tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts would send the economy back into recession. The 2013 impact alone — about $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts — exceeds the projected growth of the gross domestic product. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that the cuts — called sequestration — could cost one million jobs in 2013 and 2014.

The Congressional Budget Office projected that real economic growth would decline at an annual rate of 2.9 percent during the first half of 2013. Unemployment would rise to 9.1 percent by the end of next year.

How did we get here?

President George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress could not muster the 60 votes in the Senate to pass Mr. Bush’s initial 10-year, $1.7 trillion tax cut in 2001, so they used a parliamentary tool called reconciliation to pass the tax cuts with a simple Senate majority of 51 votes. The catch was that this meant the tax cuts would expire after the 10-year budget window closed in 2011. In 2003, when Mr. Bush went back for another round of tax cuts, Republicans in Congress again used reconciliation to avoid a Democratic filibuster and maximized the initial size of the tax cuts by having them expire at the same time as the first tax cuts, in 2011.

After the 2010 elections, President Obama struck a deal with Republicans to extend the tax cuts for another two years, as well as add other tax measures, like the payroll tax cut, to help the economy. Now that extension is ending.

The across-the-board cuts are more complicated. The newly elected Republican House in 2011 refused to raise the debt ceiling, the nation’s statutory borrowing limit, without legislation guaranteeing that the increase would be at least matched by deficit reduction. Congress and the White House agreed to spending caps that shaved about $1 trillion off projected growth over 10 years. They also created a special, bipartisan deficit reduction committee to find another $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years. If that effort failed, savings would be guaranteed by automatic cuts to both defense and nondefense programs beginning in 2013. The so-called supercommittee failed, and the government is now staring at the consequences.

How do we get out of it?

Some fledgling bipartisan talks have begun with an eye toward staving off the fiscal cliff after the election but before Jan. 1. The so-called Gang of Six searching for a deal includes Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Senate Democrat; Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the Budget Committee chairman; and Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, and three Republican senators, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Mike Crapo of Idaho and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. In addition, Senators Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, and Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, are trying to negotiate a framework moving forward that would set up a deficit reduction outline, instruct Congressional committees to make it real in six months, then punt the spending cuts and tax increases into next year.

Most of these negotiations accept that savings would have to come from entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, and an overhaul of the tax code that raises revenue by closing loopholes and curtails or ends tax deductions and credits. Most Republicans and some Democrats say they can generate additional revenue that way and still lower tax rates across the board.

The leadership is more hesitant. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, both say they want a sweeping deficit deal in the coming lame duck session of Congress to avert the cliff. But Mr. Schumer says he will not accept any deal that cuts the top income tax rates for the rich. The House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, says he will not accept any deal that raises tax rates for the rich beyond the current Bush-era levels.

Where is President Obama on all of this?

Regardless of the results on Election Day, Nov. 6, Mr. Obama will be in office on Jan. 1. He has said he will not sign any bill that extends the tax cuts for the rich but wants legislation that extends the tax cuts for families earning $250,000 or less. That alone would be enough to mitigate the economic impact of the fiscal cliff. He also opposes across-the-board spending cuts, but says there should be no “easy off-ramp,” that is, he will not sign legislation simply canceling the cuts unless Congress comes up with a plan for deficit reduction at least equal to $1.2 trillion. Mr. Obama’s budget foresees about $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade: $1 trillion already locked in with the 2011 Budget Control Act; about $1.5 trillion in additional revenues, largely from allowing tax cuts for the rich to expire; and another $1.5 trillion in additional savings. He has signaled he will accept changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as part of that last portion of savings. Republicans complain that Mr. Obama has not forcefully led his party to a deficit deal.

What if Mitt Romney wins?

If Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, wins, he will not be president until he is sworn in on Jan. 20. Since Mr. Obama says he will not accept an extension of tax cuts for more affluent families, Congress will most likely have to let the government go off the cliff. Mr. Romney says that in his first days in office, he will sign a temporary extension of all the tax cuts, effective retroactively to Jan. 1. He has said he will not allow the automatic cuts to happen, but he has not specified how he would do that.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/09/qa-understanding-the-fiscal-cliff/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: A Tax Shelter Mitt Romney Could Love

Mitt Romney seems to have used a tax strategy that involves S corporations.Jim Wilson/The New York TimesMitt Romney seems to have used a tax strategy that involves S corporations.

Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2011 tax return highlights the use of a questionable tax planning technique that may have avoided Medicare tax liability on up to $2 million of services income derived from his past employment at Bain Capital.

When Mr. Romney formally left Bain Capital in 2002, he entered into a severance agreement that covered the period from 1999, when he left Bain to work for the Olympics, until 2009. The severance agreement entitles him to receive a percentage of the profits, or “carried interest,” from Bain funds organized during that period, as well as cash payments equal to a percentage of capital committed to the Bain funds. The severance agreement technically ended in 2009, but continues to pay out additional amounts.

The notes to Mr. Romney’s financial disclosures in June reported what it called “ordinary course true-up” payments totaling just over $2 million in income in 2011. These payments were from management companies that provided investment advisory services to the Bain funds: Bain Capital Inc., Bain Capital II, Bain Capital NY and Bain Capital L.L.C.

It has not been disclosed how much Mr. Romney earned through his severance agreement in previous years. It is also unclear what “ordinary course true-up” payments are, as it is not a common legal term. The term most likely refers to payments based on a formula that, for some reason, could not be calculated accurately when the agreement ended in 2009, and pursuant to the agreement can now be calculated and paid out to Mr. Romney.

In short, Mr. Romney continues to receive cash payments from the companies that manage Bain Capital’s funds. A couple of weeks ago in this column, I described how private equity firms like Bain Capital convert management fees, which would normally generate ordinary income, into investments that yield capital gain.

R. Bradford Malt, the trustee who manages Mr. Romney’s Bain holdings, has stated that Mr. Romney did not participate in the fee conversion program. One might have logically inferred, then, that Mr. Romney’s share of the management fee income would be reported as wage income on Mr. Romney’s tax return.

Not so. Instead, the payments are reported on Schedule E of the return as distributions from S corporations — the largest being $1,961,325 from Bain Capital Inc. The distinction between wage income and an S corporation distribution is meaningless from a business standpoint, but it’s important for tax purposes.

Current law imposes a 2.9 percent Medicare tax on all wages and self-employment income. To avoid this tax, taxpayers have an incentive to characterize as much labor income as they can as investment income (like carried interest) or as a distribution from an S corporation.

Most corporations are classified as C corporations and are taxed under Subchapter C of the tax code. But under Subchapter S of the tax code, corporations can elect to be taxed on a pass-through basis, avoiding one layer of tax. Only certain corporations with a limited number of individual shareholders can make the election.

Normally, the benefit of the S corporation is that it avoids the “double tax” on corporate earnings; instead, when the corporation makes distributions to its shareholders, the income flows through and is reported on the shareholder’s return.

In the case of a closely held service business like a law firm, the corporate “double tax” can be easily avoided by organizing as a partnership or sole proprietorship. Here, the main benefit of organizing as an S corporation is to avoid employment taxes.

Imagine a trial lawyer who makes $10 million in a particular year, after expenses. That $10 million in wage income would generate $290,000 in Medicare tax liability.

But rather than providing legal services directly, the trial lawyer incorporates his legal practice as an S corporation, becoming its sole shareholder. The corporation pays the lawyer a minimum wage salary, and the lawyer pays employment taxes on that salary. The S corporation is the nominal provider of legal services and pays expenses, distributing what’s left (almost $10 million) to the lawyer as its sole shareholder.

That $10 million retains its character as ordinary income, but because it is treated as a shareholder distribution rather than wage or self-employment income, the distribution avoids the Medicare tax, and saves the trial lawyer nearly $290,000 in tax liability.

This strategy, more or less, was made famous by the trial lawyer and former presidential candidate John Edwards, giving rise to what is sometimes known in tax policy circles as the Edwards Loophole. (It has been employed more recently by Newt Gingrich, who has provided speaking and consulting services through an S corporation.)

The I.R.S. has challenged this abuse of S corporations, finding some success in the courts. In Spicer Accounting Inc. vs. United States, for example, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that “regardless of how an employer chooses to characterize payments made to its employees, the true analysis is whether the payments are for remuneration for services rendered.”

The problem is that the line between return on human capital and return on investment capital is difficult to draw. By paying themselves a (modest) salary, the owners of S corporations put the I.R.S. in the difficult position of having to estimate what a reasonable wage is.

In a recent article, the law professor Richard Winchester noted that under current law, the government can rightfully attack these distributions “as being nothing more than disguised compensation.” But because the government is ill equipped to perform the kind of audits that would help detect all potential instances of disguised compensation, Mr. Winchester notes that “the vast majority of these cases probably go unchallenged.”

The use of the S corporation as a tax shelter is widespread. A 2002 Treasury inspector general report stated that of 84 S corporation returns under audit, the average shareholder wage was only $5,300, while the average shareholder distribution was nearly $350,000. Obviously, in many of these cases the wage portion is being deliberately understated.

In the case of Mr. Romney, the issue of his Medicare tax liability is complicated because he no longer provides services to Bain Capital. Some portion of the payment represents payment for past services rendered, but perhaps some amount could be attributed to nonwage income.

Existing case law gives the I.R.S. ample authority to challenge at least some amount of the “true up” payments as remuneration for services rendered. If the entire amount were attributed to past services, then Mr. Romney’s use of the S Corporation avoided $58,000 in Medicare taxes. Without knowing the terms of the severance agreement, however, determining Mr. Romney’s proper tax liability is difficult.

In reality, the $58,000 in Medicare taxes is small beer for Mr. Romney, who voluntarily paid an extra $250,000 in taxes in 2011 to keep his effective federal income tax rate above 13 percent. The Medicare taxes avoided on earlier severance payments might have been much greater. But more important, from a tax policy perspective, it highlights one of the many ways that partnerships and S corporations can be manipulated to help business owners avoid the taxes that normal wage earners pay.

For further reading on using business entities to avoid employment taxes, see Richard Winchester, “The Gap in the Employment Tax Gap,” Stanford Law and Policy Review (2009).

Victor Fleischer is a professor at the University of Colorado Law School, where he teaches partnership tax, tax policy and deals. His research focuses on how tax affects the structuring of venture capital, private equity, and corporate transactions.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/a-tax-shelter-mitt-romney-could-love/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks Blog: Monday Reading: How to Avoid Getting Fleeced by Travel Fees

September 24

Monday Reading: How to Avoid Getting Fleeced by Travel Fees

Avoiding fees when you travel, Medicare bills rise as records turn electronic, questioning the tip on a split restaurant bill and other consumer-focused news from The New York Times.

Article source: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/24/monday-reading-how-to-avoid-fee-fleecing-on-trips/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks Blog: Thursday Reading: More Expected to Pay Penalty Under Health Law

September 21

Friday Reading: The High Cost of Out-of-Pocket Medicare Expenses

The high cost of out-of-pocket Medicare expenses, life span shrinks for some whites, how to apply to a performing arts school and other consumer-focused news from The New York Times.

Article source: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/20/thursday-reading-more-expected-to-pay-penalty-under-health-law/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks Blog: Friday Reading: The High Cost of Out-of-Pocket Medicare Expenses

September 21

Friday Reading: The High Cost of Out-of-Pocket Medicare Expenses

The high cost of out-of-pocket Medicare expenses, life span shrinks for some whites, how to apply to a performing arts school and other consumer-focused news from The New York Times.

Article source: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/21/friday-reading-the-high-cost-of-out-of-pocket-medicare-expenses/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks Blog: Tuesday Reading: Exaggerating Your Race Results

September 18

Tuesday Reading: Exaggerating Your Race Results

Exaggerating your race results, grappling with details of Medicare proposals, five ways to find your best-fitting college and other consumer-focused news from The New York Times.

Article source: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/18/tuesday-reading-exaggerating-your-race-results/?partner=rss&emc=rss

News Analysis: Why Americans Think the Tax Rate’s High, and Why They’re Wrong

The truth is that most households probably pay a lower rate than Mr. Romney. It is impossible to know for sure, given that he has yet to release his tax return. What is clear, though, is that a large majority of American households — about two out of three — pays less than 15 percent of income to the federal government, through either income taxes or payroll taxes.

This disconnect between what we pay and what we think we pay is nothing less than one of the country’s biggest economic problems.

Many Americans see themselves as struggling under the weight of a heavy tax burden (partly for the understandable reason that wage growth has been so weak). Yet taxes in the United States are quite low today, compared with past years or those in other countries. Most important, American taxes are not sufficient to pay for the programs that many people want, like Medicare, Social Security, road construction and education subsidies.

What does this combination create? An enormous long-term budget deficit.

Together, all federal taxes equaled 14.4 percent of the nation’s economic output last year, the lowest level since 1950. Add state and local taxes, and the share nearly doubles, to about 27 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center in Washington — still lower than at almost any other point in the last 40 years.

As the economy recovers and incomes rise, tax payments will increase somewhat. But they will not keep pace with projected spending, in the form of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And total taxes at current rates would still make up a smaller share of the economy than in virtually any other rich country — not just European nations but also Australia, Canada, Israel and New Zealand.

Obviously, tax increases are not the only way to solve the deficit. Spending cuts can, too. But so far, at least, many voters seem to prefer small, symbolic cuts, like those to foreign aid. Substantial cuts — be they the changes to Medicare that President Obama included in his health care bill or the Medicare overhaul that Republicans prefer — tend to be politically unpopular.

Since the late 1970s, just before the modern tax-cutting push began, total federal tax rates have fallen for every income group. The payroll tax has risen, but declines in the income tax have more than made up for those increases. Nearly half the population now pays no federal income tax.

All told, most households pay less than 15 percent of their income to the federal government because of tax breaks, like the exclusion for health insurance, and because marginal rates apply to only a small part of a taxpayer’s income. On the first $70,000 of a couple’s taxable income, the total federal income tax rate is only 13.8 percent.

That said, taxes have fallen the most for the very affluent. Mr. Romney and his father — George W. Romney, the former automobile executive, Michigan governor and presidential candidate — do a nice job of illustrating the change.

The elder Mr. Romney, who died in 1995, paid an average federal tax rate of 37 percent in the 12 years for which he released his tax returns, according to an analysis by Joseph J. Thorndike, a columnist for Tax Notes magazine. Mitt Romney’s tax rate has been far lower, thanks mostly to the decline in taxes on stocks and other investments. The top marginal tax rate on ordinary income has also fallen sharply.

And George Romney paid a lower tax rate than most affluent Americans in the 1950s and ’60s, mainly because of deductions for his large donations to the Mormon Church. Then, a typical household near the very top of the income distribution would have paid almost 50 percent of its income in direct federal taxes, research by the economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty has shown.

In recent years, that number has been below 30 percent.

Besides the drop in tax rates, affluent households have benefited disproportionately from tax breaks and deductions. The mortgage interest deduction, widely considered a middle-class benefit, actually saves a typical middle-income household only about $200 a year, because so many families claim the standard deduction, rather than itemized ones. The average family in the top 1 percent saves more than $5,000 from the mortgage deduction.

Such breaks are probably one reason that so many people feel as if their own taxes are such a burden: they have a sense, and not incorrectly, that others are benefiting from tax breaks unavailable to them. “If we had a simpler tax code,” said Roberton Williams of the Tax Policy Center, “people might be more accepting of what they pay.”

The group for which tax rates have fallen the least is the upper middle class: those households earning between about $75,000 and $300,000 a year. Their tax rates have declined over the past few decades, but only by a couple of percentage points.

Of course, many of the people who talk publicly about taxes — economists, policy experts, journalists — happen to fall into this group, which may be yet another reason that the public debate does not always match reality.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=03786b85cd6c8008d9c35986ce220105

Asian Markets Rally on Optimism Over Europe

Opinion »

Op-Ed: Fight Health Care Fraud

We should be much more aggressive in recovering money stolen from Medicare and Medicaid.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/business/daily-stock-market-activity.html?partner=rss&emc=rss