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President Barack Obama's campaign pledge to end taxes for seniors making less than $50,000 has fallen off the radar.
It wasn't part of the tax cuts in the economic stimulus bill, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It wasn't in Obama's first budget outline, which was approved by Congress on April 2, 2009. And it's not part of any proposed legislation that we can find.
Today, on Tax Day, Obama gave a speech in which he talked about his other tax promises and how he wants to reshape the tax code to make it simple and more efficient. But he never mentioned his promise of curtailing the income tax for seniors.
The Obama administration has done other things for seniors. Thanks to the stimulus bill, for example, everyone who gets Social Security benefits will receive a $250 check from the government in May. But the bold promise to end taxes for seniors if they make less than $50,000 seems to be forgotten.
We asked the White House about it, but got no response. If this promise is ever revived, we'll revisit our ruling. But for now, this is a Promise Broken.
We've received a number of e-mails from readers asking us when President Obama will end income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000.
"As a senior citizen with limited income, I've been watching this site every day to see when President Obama will keep his promise on number 24," writes one reader. "Any hint of when this might be?"
We don't have a crystal ball, but we can say this measure did not make it into the stimulus bill, even though some of Obama's other tax promises did.
The measure also was not part of the budget outline that the Obama administration released on Feb. 26, 2009.
Its omission from the budget outline is not a good sign for seniors who want it to pass soon. Such a significant measure would almost certainly have been in the document if Obama intended to enact it for 2010. Several other tax credits and exemptions that Obama promised during the campaign were mentioned specifically in the budget.
We asked the White House what the plans were for this measure but didn't hear back.
It has a significant price tag. During the campaign, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center analyzed Obama's tax proposals and concluded it would cost $35.4 billion from 2009 to 2013, or $69.9 billion from 2009 to 2018.
We should add that the Tax Policy Center didn't care for this idea because it conflicted with the center's mission statement that taxes should be "fair, simple and efficient." In a report on Obama's tax proposals, author and tax analyst Roberton Williams said that the move exacerbates inequity between older and younger taxpayers with the same income:
"Most senior citizens already pay no income tax because they may claim an additional standard deduction and because most Social Security benefits are not subject to tax; nobody age 65 and over whose income comes entirely or almost entirely from Social Security pays income tax. Obama"s proposal would remove even more elderly from the tax rolls while maintaining taxes on working families with similar income but greater need. With federal spending on programs for the elderly projected to soar as the baby boomers retire, targeting special tax breaks on the elderly seems inappropriate. Furthermore, the proposal only helps seniors who currently pay income taxes; those too poor to owe any tax — arguably those most in need — would get no benefit."
Whether the policy is advisable or not, it's not listed explicitly in the budget outline, even though other tax credits and deductions are mentioned prominently. More details on the budget will be released in April, and Congress must approve the final package. But for now, because this measure is not part of the initial budget proposal, we're rating this item Stalled.