Not getting what we pay for

In real life when you find yourself paying more and getting less, you usually search for another product or service. With the federal government, it isn’t possible to take your business elsewhere unless you are prepared to give up your citizenship, as some have done. Such a drastic step is rejected by most of us because we still believe in the ideal that once was America, though not in the direction in which the country is currently headed.

At the end of the year comes a letter from the person who prepares my taxes. He wants me to know about changes in the tax law associated with Obamacare. It is written in a way that only people with a gift for foreign languages can understand. Here are some excerpts.

“Taxpayers Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) exceeds $200,000 ($250,000 for couples filing jointly).

“(i) Subject to a Medicare payroll tax increase of .9 percent on earned income (e.g., wages and net self-employment income) above these amounts. Employers will pay 1.45 percent and employees will pay 1.45 percent on the first $200,000 and 2.35 percent (1.45 percent + .9 percent) on the amount over $200,000 (withheld by the employer). Some of this may be returned if the employee files jointly because the threshold on a joint return is $250,000. Self-employed will pay 2.9 percent on the first $200,000 of net income and 3.8 percent on the amount over $200,000 (or $250,000 if filing jointly).”

Are you still with me, or have you turned to the sports section? There’s more.

“(ii) Subject to the new Medicare surtax of 3.8 percent on the lower of (a) your net investment income or (b) the amount that MAGI exceeds the $200,000/$250,000 amounts. Example: Steve and Alice file jointly: MAGI is $390,000 ($330,000 is wages and $60,000 is net investment income). Their wages exceed the $250,000 threshold by $80,000 and their MAGI exceeds $250,000 threshold by $140,000. They are subject to the Medicare payroll tax increase in the amount of $720 (.9 percent x $80,000). They are also subject to the Medicare surtax in the amount of $2,280 (3.8 percent x $60,000); note $60,000 is the lower of ‘excess’ MAGI ($140,000) and net investment income ($60,000).”

There’s a second page of this, but why torture readers any further? Is this the kind of stuff a free people should put up with? What kind of twisted mind comes up with language and policies that college-educated and otherwise successful people can’t understand? Even some people at the IRS have been notoriously unhelpful in answering questions about this foreign language known as the U.S. tax code, but if taxpayers get something wrong, they must still pay for their mistakes with a penalty and interest.

There are many hidden and not-so-hidden taxes in Obamacare and elsewhere. Here’s one part of my tax attorney’s letter I do understand: “The top tax bracket is now 39.6 percent (up from 35 percent) [and] the capital gains rate and dividend rate may be increased to 20 percent (from 15 percent) plus the additional 3.8 percent Medicare surtax discussed above.”

At least the guy has an ironic sense of humor. He concludes in bold letters: “Just another simplification of the Internal Revenue Code.”

Here’s my own attempt at dark humor. In our just concluded Christmas season, we recalled a different kind of Magi: wise men who came to worship and bring gifts to the Christ child. Now MAGI stands for Modified Adjusted Gross Income. How appropriate with a president who was called a messiah figure by some and to whom we are being forced to bring “gifts” in increasing amounts to be misspent on bloated and dysfunctional government.

There’s only one way to fix this and it comes in the next two elections.

Readers may e-mail Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribune.com.

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