The Biden and Ryan Debate: Energy and Taxes

by Raymond J. Keating

The vice presidential debate between Congressman Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden was a lively affair. Though it often was difficult getting by the many interruptions served up by Biden, and Martha Raddatz’s bias as a moderator, in order to get at the substance.

But some clear themes did emerge that warrant the attention of entrepreneurs and small businesses.

First, this was a debate overwhelmingly about foreign policy, in particular about the Middle East and North Africa. Of course, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya and the rest of the general region rank as the immediate hotspots in terms of U.S. national security. And given the role played in oil markets, it’s a huge economic factor.

In the end, given the Obama administration’s mixed messages and general pulling back from the region, Congressman Ryan was justified in hitting the White House hard on their strategy, or lack thereof. There is no doubt that tumult and uncertainty in the region, including the role of the U.S., has been one of the key reasons for oil prices remaining high.

It also should be pointed out that Ryan mentioned greater North American energy independence. To the degree that is achieved will depend on U.S. policymaking, such as the extent of U.S. domestic exploration and production, as well as moving ahead with projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has been hostile to carbon-based energy in general, raised barriers to domestic production, and blocked the Keystone XL pipeline.

Second, a big difference emerged on the tax front.

Vice President Biden was unrelenting in pushing a class warfare agenda. He spoke of a fictional tax cut for the “middle class.” In fact, the Obama agenda offers no tax relief for middle-income earners. Rather, it proposes leaving today’s tax policies in effect for middle and low-income earners, while jacking up taxes on everyone else.

Meanwhile, Congressman Ryan pointed out that the Obama tax plan rests on a major tax hike on “successful small businesses.” He contrasted the Obama plan with the Romney plan by noting that the top income tax rate on small businesses would be nearly 45 percent under Obama, while it would be 28 percent under Romney. That’s a profound and economically substantive difference on tax rates.

Ryan also pointed out that 53 percent of small business income would be hit by the Obama tax increases.

For good measure, Ryan noted that this top Obama tax rate would make U.S. businesses far less competitive internationally. That’s very important. While President Obama, to his credit, has called for reducing the corporate income tax rate, he has pushed and pushed to increase the personal income tax rate, without mentioning that some 93 percent of businesses pay personal, rather than corporate, income taxes.

In the end, it needs to be understood that any kind of tax increase, especially in a tough economy, makes no sense whatsoever. No economists – no matter what school of economic thought they belong to – would advocate tax increases in this environment. Their reasoning surely would differ, but not their bottom line conclusion. And any economist pushing for a tax increase right now is playing politics, and not thinking as an economist.

And make no mistake, economics makes clear that tax increases on upper incomes – as included in ObamaCare and in terms of the additional hikes advocated by Obama – will hurt everyone, not just higher income earners. Biden asserted that the, as he put it, “super wealthy” can afford to pay more in taxes. What Biden misses in his class warfare hysteria is that the Obama-Biden tax increases mean reduced incentives and resources for entrepreneurship and investment. That means bad news throughout the economy – for everyone.

If we want to get economic growth back on track, experience rising incomes, and create more jobs, then taxes cannot be increased on the entrepreneurs and investors that are critical to making this happen.

Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. His article was first published by the SBE Council, 12 October, 2012, http://www.sbecouncil.org/2012/10/12/the-biden-and-ryan-debate-energy-and-taxes.

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