President Obama released a 140-page outline of his budget today that reflects his revenue and spending priorities for the next couple of years.

Chief among these is a major change in federal health care policies. As made clear in his speech to Congress the other day, health care reform is first among the several big reforms on the table and his budget sets aside $634 billion of the estimated $1 trillion he plans to spend on the plan.

To raise the $634 billion, Obama calls for: 1) limiting itemized deductions for families earning more than $250,000, starting in 2011; 2) cutting payments to Medicare Advantage plans; and 3) reducing Medicaid payments to hospitals and drug makers.

Other key proposals include:

  • Beginning in 2011, increasing the top two income tax rates to 39.6 and 36 percent respectively while raising rates on capital gains and dividends to 20 percent, consistent with President Obama’s promise to raise taxes on families earning over $250,000.
  • Raising $353 billion through the elimination of so-called business loopholes including limiting the ability of firms to defer tax payments on overseas income and LIFO repeal.
  • Raising the tax rates applied to so-called “carried interest” earned by hedge fund managers and other professionals.
  • Calling for a cap-and-trade program to limit carbon emissions with 100 percent of the credits auctioned off. The resulting revenue would be used to fund clean energy programs and be returned to families and small businesses.
  • Locking into place the 2009 estate tax rate and exemption levels.

We will have more reports in coming days, but suffice it to say that the Obama outline, if enacted intact, would result in significantly higher tax rates for many S corporations that would be imposed on a significantly larger income base.

The one piece of good news is that the budget, reflecting the current economic climate, does not attempt to accelerate the rate increases on upper-income families, but rather allows the current rules to take effect whereby the lower rates expire beginning in 2011.

As students of government know, the President’s annual budget submission is required by Congress and is just the first step in the year-long process of establishing the governmentb’s spending and revenue limits. Given the current make-up of Congress, however, we expect the plan outlined today to be the presumptive starting place for congressional deliberations — especially in the House. For S corporations, that means we will be playing a lot of defense for the next few months.

Do Marginal Rates Matter?

Perhaps the biggest tax debate in the next couple years will be over President Obama’s proposal to raise top tax rates back to their pre-2001 levels. Tax cutters argue that higher marginal tax rates will hurt small businesses and the economy as a whole.

Increasingly, we are hearing the counter argument that marginal rates don’t matter. Policymakers on the Hill have told us that and President Obamab’s budget outline appears to endorse that notion as well. A back-and-forth on CNBC this morning does a nice job of outlining the debate.

Your intrepid S-CORP team was around in 1993, and we recall that the Clinton rate increases took place in an extremely positive economic and global climate — the Cold War was over, the Thrift Bailout had run its course, and much of the developed world was moving towards market-based policies. Attributing any effect of higher tax rates to economic performance in that climate is a stretch at best.

In many ways, the climate today is just the opposite of what Bill Clinton inherited in 1993, and we are not at all comfortable that higher tax rates applied to a broader tax base will have limited or minimal impacts on economic activity.