Distributional Effects of the 2001 and 2003 Tax Cuts and Their Financing

Isaac Shapiro, Peter R. Orszag, and
Peter R. Orszag Vice Chairman of Investment Banking, Managing Director, and Global Co-Head of Healthcare - Lazard
William G. Gale
William G. Gale The Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Federal Economic Policy, Senior Fellow - Economic Studies, Co-Director - Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

June 3, 2004


Tax cuts are not free; they must be financed with some combination of tax increases or spending cuts. The central goal of this paper is to apply this standard insight from public finance to analysis of the distributional effects of making the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent. We estimate not only who benefits directly from the tax cuts, but also who benefits and who loses once the financing of the tax cuts is considered. We consider two scenarios: one in which each household pays an equal dollar amount to finance the tax cuts and one where each household pays the same share of income. In both cases, more than three-quarters of households end up worse off if the tax cuts are made permanent and financed. In addition, there are large aggregate transfers from the majority of low- and middle-income households to an affluent minority. These results show that, far from simply “giving people their money back,” making the tax cuts permanent would impose significant losses on tens of millions of American households.

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