Wednesday, February 20, 2008

In an effort to add a larger dose of substance to his rhetoric, Barack Obama unveiled a detailed economic plan last week. In doing so, he provided unmistakable proof why the National Journal’s ideological ratings, based upon votes, ranked him as the Senate’s most liberal member for 2007.

On the spending side of the ledger, Mr. Obama proposed a 10-year, $60 billion “National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank,” which is a highfalutin name for a scheme to fund dubious pork-barrel projects that can’t pass muster in our pork-addicted Congress. The $60 billion is just a down payment; it will be used to leverage “almost half a trillion of additional infrastructure spending.” Guess who’s going to pay for all that. Not to worry because the whole scheme will “generate nearly 2 million new jobs.” Mr. Obama has also proposed a 10-year, $150 billion program “to establish a green energy sector that will create up to 5 million new jobs.” His nearly universal health care plan, which he implausibly asserts will reduce the average family’s insurance premium by $2,500 per year, is projected to cost between $50 billion and $65 billion per year.

If Mr. Obama is beholden to taxpayer-funded, government-designed highway and energy pork projects, he has gone hog wild over “refundable tax credits,” which is the polite description of taxpayer-financed cash payments to people who pay no income taxes. Mr. Obama promises a $4,000 refundable tax credit to finance college tuition for students who spend 100 hours performing community service. There will be a refundable 10 percent mortgage-interest tax credit for married couples who take the $10,900 standard deduction because their itemizable deductions (including mortgage interest) fall below that level. Couples will also receive a refundable $1,000 tax credit to offset payroll taxes even if their refundable earned-income tax credit (EITC) has already eliminated their payroll-tax burden. Taxpayers will also finance a $500 refundable tax credit to augment a $1,000 savings-account deposit made by families earning up to $75,000.

Mr. Obama also promises to “triple the [EITC] benefit for minimum-wage workers.” Let’s do the math. For a married couple with two children working full-time and earning the minimum wage ($5.85 per hour, $24,336 per year), their refundable EITC would rise from $3,225 to $9,675. They already qualify for refundable child tax credits totaling about $1,850. Mr. Obama would increase their refundable child-care tax credit to $3,000. Don’t forget his refundable $1,000 tax credit to partly offset their $1,500 Social Security taxes, which had already been more than offset by their nearly $10,000 refundable EITC. If they put that $1,000 in the bank, they would get another refundable tax credit of $500. A future editorial will examine how Mr. Obama intends to pay for all this.

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