Analysis: At cliff's edge, old ideas to cap tax breaks are new again

Mon Dec 31, 2012 3:53pm EST
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By Kim Dixon and Kevin Drawbaugh

(Reuters) - Imposing overall caps on how much high-income people in the United States can claim on their tax returns in deductions, exemptions and other tax breaks is an idea whose time may have come - again.

In the whirl of "fiscal cliff" talks, bipartisan backing has grown for imposing, or in some cases reinstating, caps on tax breaks for top earners.

On Monday, Republicans threw their support behind several approaches to do just that in a framework to step away from the fiscal cliff of $600 billion in new taxes and spending cuts set to take effect on January 1.

Under an emerging deal brokered by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, curbs on deductions and exemptions for households earning more than $300,000 would be re-imposed, according to a source close to the talks.

For several years, Democratic President Barack Obama has proposed re-imposing the limits. Republicans have opposed such caps for more than a decade, but the idea may be coming full circle.

These limits "were originally done in 1990 at the behest of the Republicans who didn't want tax rates to go up," said Michael Graetz, a Columbia University tax law professor and a former top Treasury Department official.

The main reason for the switch now? The urgent search for politically achievable paths to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff of sharp tax increases and spending cuts.

Talks on avoiding the cliff were moving along on Monday with the fresh offer from McConnell and Biden.   Continued...

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) leaves the Senate Chamber for the caucus at the U.S. Capitol in Washington December 30, 2012. REUTERS/Mary Calvert