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Nation faces steep tax hikes

WASHINGTON — A typical middle-income family making $40,000 to $64,000 a year could see its taxes go up by $2,000 next year if lawmakers fail to renew a lengthy roster of tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, according to a new report Monday

Taxpayers across the income spectrum would be hit with large tax increases, the Tax Policy Center said in its study, with households in the top 1 percent income range seeing an average tax increase of more than $120,000, while a family making $110,000 to $140,000 could see an increase in the $6,000 range.

Taxpayers across the income spectrum will get slammed with increases totaling more than $500 billion — a more than 20 percent increase — with nine out of 10 households being affected by the expiration of tax cuts enacted under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

The expiring provisions include Bush-era cuts on wage and investment income and cuts for married couples and families with children, among others. Also expiring is a 2 percentage point temporary payroll tax cut championed by Obama.

The looming expiration of the large roster of tax cuts is one of the issues confronting voters in November, with the chief difference between Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney being the tax treatment of wealthier earners. Obama wants rates on individual income exceeding $200,000 and family incoming of more than $250,000 to go back to Clinton-era rates of as much as 39.6 percent.

Both candidates call for rewriting the tax code next year, but any such effort promises to be difficult and could take considerable time.

Monday's study, by the independent Tax Policy Center, deals with the immediate increases set to take effect in January under the existing framework of the tax code.

Few are talking of renewing Obama's payroll tax cut, even though not doing so would mean a healthy tax increase for many working people. Working families with modest incomes would be hit hard as the child tax credit would shrink from a maximum of $1,000 per child to $500.

As a result, a married couple earning $50,000 with three dependent children who now receive an almost $1,500 income tax refund largely due to the child tax credit would see their fortunes reversed next year, paying more than $1,500 in income taxes while their payroll taxes go up by $1,000 if the tax cuts expire.

"It's just a huge, huge number," said Eric Toder, one of the authors of the study.

Economists warn that the looming tax increases, combined with $109 billion in automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect in January, could throw the fragile economy back into recession if Washington doesn't act. The automatic spending cuts are coming due because of the failure of last year's deficit "supercommittee" to strike a bargain. The combination of the sharp tax increases and spending cuts has been dubbed a "fiscal cliff."

Cumulatively, the country would see a jump of 5 percentage points in its average tax rate, which works out to taxes on the top 1 percent rising by more than 7 percentage points and an increase of about 4 percentage points for most people earning less than $100,000 a year.

Put another way, people in the $40,000 to $64,000 income range would see their average federal tax rate jump from 14 percent to 17.8 percent — or an increase in their overall federal bill of 27 percent.

All told, almost 90 percent of all households would face a tax increase, although the top 20 percent of earners would bear 60 percent of the overall cost. Across all households, the tax increases would average $3,500.

The expiration of cuts on capital gains and stock dividends is a key reason why wealthier people would see a higher increase in their tax burdens.

Republicans controlling the House also have called for the expiration of Obama-backed tax cuts for the working poor, including expansions of the earned income and child tax credits.

But all sides are calling for the renewal of Bush-era tax rates for everyone else.

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