Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
President Obama's "Buffett Rule," requiring at least a 30 percent effective tax rate on millionaires, was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday. Here's what your tax return could look like if he—or any of the other candidates for president—has his way.
These are the candidates' proposed tax plans in their own words, as explicit as they've been in debates, speeches, campaign websites, and white papers. You'll notice some plans leave more grey area than others.
Also note that these are rough estimates that don't take into account any of the deductions and loopholes that may or may not exist next time you do your taxes; this only reflects the personal income tax rates proposed by each candidate, with some more detail below.
The analysis looks at only two income levels, which are very far apart: those making $1 million a year, and those making $50,000 a year. This is for two reasons: most candidates plan for fewer (or no) tax brackets, and the question of how much millionaires should pay compared with "average" Americans has been a focal point of the election debate about tax and economic policy.
Hover over the dots above each candidate to hear them describe their plans in their own words.
“If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes...If you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up.” (January 24, 2012)
What that means: By now we’re all familiar with the Buffett Rule. If not, here you go. Obama leaves the math a little fuzzy on just what that top tax rate should be, and how the tax code can get us there, but the bottom line is that taxes would go up for people making more than $250,000 a year, and wouldn’t change for people making less.
“Ultimately let's get it down to as low as we possibly can—if it's 20, if it's 25—but paying more than 25 percent, I think, is taking too much out of our pockets.” (January 16, 2012)
What that means: Romney’s plan is especially light on specifics. The candidate says our first order of business should be reducing the tax rate for middle-income Americans, but his official policy is to leave current rates on personal income alone. The statement above reflects a place to which he’d like to get eventually, but to which he won’t sprint. Romney would also eliminate the death tax and get rid of taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains for people making less than $200,000 a year.
“I would like to see it be a flat tax at 15 percent.” (January 16, 2012)
What that means: Gingrich’s plan introduces an optional 15 percent flat tax with a larger personal deduction that taxpayers can opt for instead of the current bracket structure. He also eliminates capital gains and death taxes. These reforms would allow Americans to "file their taxes on a postcard," Newt crows.
“My plan has two rates, 10 and 28 percent, which is the highest rate under Ronald Reagan when he cut taxes.” (January 16, 2012)
What that means: Santorum doesn’t provide detail about which levels of income would be taxed under which rate – does the 28 percent rate kick in at salaries of $100,000, or $250,000? His plan would also eliminate the alternative minimum tax and the death tax, while lowering the capital gains tax from 15 to 12 percent. Santorum then triples the personal deduction for each child you have, and gets rid of marriage tax penalties.
“We should have the lowest tax that we've ever had, and up until 1913 it was 0 percent. What's so bad about that?” (January 16, 2012)
What that means: No income tax, no death tax, no capital gains tax…you get the idea.