Experts Forecast the
Cost of Failure to
By NELSON D. SCHWARTZ | New York Times
Even if President Obama and Republicans in Congress can reach a last-minute compromise that averts some tax increases before Monday’s midnight deadline, experts still foresee a significant drag on the economy in the first half of 2013 from the fiscal impasse in Washington.
While negotiators in the capital focus on keeping Bush-era tax rates in place for all but the wealthiest Americans, other tax increases are expected to go into effect regardless of what happens in the coming days. For example, a two percentage point jump in payroll taxes for Social Security is all but certain after Jan. 1, a change that will equal an additional $2,000 from the paycheck of a worker earning $100,000 a year.
Many observers initially expected the lower payroll-tax deduction rate of 4.2 percent to be preserved. But in recent weeks, as it became clear that political leaders were prepared to let that rate rise to 6.2 percent, economists reduced their predictions for growth in the first quarter accordingly.
Largely because of this jump in payroll taxes, Nigel Gault, chief United States economist at IHS Global Insight, is halving his prediction for economic growth in the first quarter to 1 percent from an earlier estimate of just over 2 percent. That represents a significant slowdown in economic growth from the third quarter of 2012, when the economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.1 percent.
Mr. Obama has pushed to preserve Bush-era tax rates on income below $250,000 a year but Republicans have held out for a higher threshold, perhaps in the neighborhood of $400,000 a year. Republicans also favor deeper spending cuts to curb long-term budget deficits — a move many Democrats oppose.
While hopes dimmed Sunday afternoon that a deal could be reached before Jan. 1, most observers said they did not expect the full impact from more than $600 billion in potential tax increases and spending cuts to swamp the economy right away. Indeed, a compromise could be struck in the coming weeks that heads off the worst of the fallout.
In the event no compromise is found, however, the Congressional Budget Office and many private economists warn that the sudden pullback in spending and the rise in taxes would push the economy into recession in the first half of the year. Under this outcome, Mr. Gault said, the economy could shrink by 0.5 percent over all of 2013. (Read more here.)