$860 billion tax-cut deal: Cost breakdown

By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Senate version of the tax-cut deal brokered by the White House and Republicans earlier this week is estimated to cost roughly $860 billion.

The Senate will take its first vote on the bill on Monday.

But even if the Senate passes the bill, House passage is far from guaranteed given many House Democrats' bitter opposition to the compromise framework in its current form. Unless they're allowed to make key changes, they have said they will not bring the bill to the House floor.

The White House, meanwhile, has said if any major changes are made, the whole deal could unravel.

About half of the measures in the tax-cut bill might be considered new short-term stimulus, meaning they may add to the deficits for two more years, but could help maintain the economic recovery and help spur economic activity and job creation.

Of course, there is some disagreement over just how stimulative some of the measures will be.

Many economists, for instance, don't consider an extension of the Bush tax cuts stimulus, because it merely keeps current rates in place. But letting taxes go higher, they say, could impede growth.

Several other measures are intended as pro-growth stimulus, including a break on how much is deducted from workers' paychecks for Social Security and tax incentives to encourage businesses to step up their investments.

Deficit hawks have been saying that a short-term run-up in debt would be acceptable if it is paired with a serious long-term deficit-reduction plan.

The proposed deal skips that last part, though the president has said he and his budget team will review the recommendations for debt reduction made last week by his debt panel. In particular, he said he would pursue tax reform, a key element in the debt panel's plan.

Nevertheless, deficit hawks said the tax-cut deal without any formal commitment to debt reduction is "utterly exasperating."

Following is a breakdown on some of the key measures and their costs, based on revenue estimates from the Joint Committee on Taxation, unless otherwise noted.

Bush tax cuts: $544.3 billion. The package would extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone for two years.

The bulk of that cost -- $463 billion -- is for the extension of cuts for families making less than $250,000, including two years of relief for 2010 and 2011 for the middle class from the Alternative Minimum Tax.

The rest -- $81.5 billion -- is attributable to the extension of cuts that apply to the highest income families.

The cost of extending all the tax cuts over 10 years would have been $3.7 trillion.

Unemployment benefits: $56.5 billion. The package would also leave in place for 13 months the option to file for extended federal unemployment benefits -- which go as high as 99 weeks in states hit hardest by job loss. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the measure would cost $56.5 billion.

Social Security tax break: $111.7 billion. The package would also offer workers a payroll tax holiday worth 2 percentage points next year, so that instead of paying 6.2% on their first $106,800 of wages, they will only have to pay 4.2%. The measure would cost $112 billion.

Individual tax credits: $8.3 billion. The compromise framework would also extend for two years the increased value of a number of tax credits that benefit low- and middle-income tax filers, such as the earned income tax credit, the child credit and a revamped tax credit for college costs. The measure would cost $8 billion.

Business tax breaks: $69 billion. The bill contains more than 40 business tax breaks. Some, like an extension of the research and development credit, has drawn bipartisan support and is typically renewed annually. But also included are roughly $11 billion worth of energy credits and a new temporary option for businesses to write off 100% of their expenses in 2011. That measure would cost $21 billion.

Estate tax: $68 billion. The compromise framework also includes a lower estate tax, which barring any changes would return in 2011 with a $1 million exemption level and a top rate of 55%. Instead, under the proposal, the exemption level would be raised to $5 million and the top rate lowered to 35%. The JCT estimates the measure would cost $68 billion.

Paying as they go?

Of course, the cost of the combined provisions could be reduced if lawmakers choose to follow their own rules to pay for any new tax cuts or spending increases by finding additional revenue or cutting spending elsewhere in the budget.

But it's likely that few, if any, of the measures in the compromise framework would end up being paid for.

One reason is that some of the measures -- like extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class -- are already exempt from the so-called "pay-go" rules. Another reason is that many of the other measures -- such as the payroll tax holiday and the unemployment benefits extension -- will likely be deemed emergency spending. To top of page

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