PEP and Pease - phaseouts for personal exemptions and limitations on itemized deductions starting at $250,000 for individuals and $300,000 for joint filers - are back. They began in 1990, expired in 2010, and are now back.
PEP and Pease, which aficionados of stealth tax increases will recognize immediately as relics of the 1990 tax increase. Those measures, which limit deductions and exemptions for higher-income taxpayers, expired in 2010. The Obama tax bill revived them this week. It isn't going to be pretty.
Under the new law, some of the steepest tax increases may fall on upper-middle class earners with incomes just above $250,000. Here's why:
During the negotiations, the White House won a concession from Republicans to allow phaseouts for personal exemptions and limitations on itemized deductions, starting at an income of $250,000 for individuals and $300,000 for joint filers.
The Senate Finance Committee informs us that in effect the loss of the personal exemptions, currently $3,800 per family member, can mean a 4.4 percentage point rise in the marginal tax rate for a married couple with two kids and incomes above $250,000. A family with four kids in that income range faces about a six percentage point marginal rate hike. The restored limitations on itemized deductions can raise the tax rate by another one percentage point.
How did this happen? Recall that early in the fiscal-cliff negotiations House Speaker John Boehner offered to cap itemized deductions to raise $800 billion, in lieu of raising tax rates, if the President would agree to spending cuts. The White House rejected that.
Mr. Obama then insisted on reviving PEP and Pease, thereby recapturing much of the income he claimed to be "compromising" away by agreeing to a higher income threshold for the top bracket. But instead of using phaseouts to offset higher rates as Mitt Romney proposed, Mr. Obama insisted on raising tax rates too.