US may skirt 'fiscal cliff' but faces higher taxes
WASHINGTON — A last-ditch tax deal in the Senate might let the U.S. economy escape the worst of the so-called fiscal cliff and avoid going back into recession. But even if the House goes along, the tax increases likely coming in 2013 will dent economic growth anyway.
In the early hours of the new year, the Senate voted to end a long stalemate and raise taxes on upper-income households, extend long-term unemployment benefits and postpone decisions over government spending cuts, officials said. But any deal needs approval from the House.
About $536 billion in 2013 tax increases were scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, along with $109 billion in cuts from military and domestic-spending programs, if Democrats and Republicans could not reach agreement.
Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo, said he expects budget policy, including the higher taxes in the Senate plan, to shave 0.8 percentage points off economic growth in 2013. The economy doesn't have much growth to give. Vitner predicts it will grow just 1.5 percent in 2013, down from 2.2 percent in 2012.
The biggest hit to the economy is expected to come from the end of a two-year Social Security tax cut. The so-called payroll tax is scheduled to bounce back up to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent in 2011 and 2012, amounting to a $1,000 tax increase for someone earning $50,000 a year.
"Even with this deal, fiscal policy will still be a net drag on economic growth," Vitner said. "The expiration of the payroll tax holiday will reduce after-tax income for all workers and hit lower to middle income families the hardest."
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, calculates that the higher payroll tax will reduce economic growth by 0.6 percentage points in 2013. The other possible tax increases — including higher taxes on household incomes above $450,000 a year — will slice just 0.15 percentage points off annual growth, Zandi says.