Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982

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The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (Pub.L. 97–248),[1] also known as TEFRA, was a United States federal law that rescinded some of the effects of the Kemp-Roth Act passed the year before. As a result of ongoing recession, a short-term fall in tax revenue generated concern over the budget deficit. TEFRA was created in order to reduce the budget gap by generating revenue through closure of tax loopholes and introduction of tougher enforcement of tax rules, as opposed to changing marginal income tax rates. TEFRA was introduced November 13, 1981 and was sponsored by Representative Pete Stark of California. After much deliberation the final version was signed by President Ronald Reagan on September 3, 1982.

Summary of provisions[edit]

The Office of Tax Analysis of the United States Department of the Treasury summarized the tax changes as follows:[2]

  • repealed scheduled increases in accelerated depreciation deductions
  • tightened safe harbor leasing rules
  • required taxpayers to reduce basis by 50% of investment tax credit
  • instituted 10% withholding on dividends and interest paid to individuals
  • tightened completed contract accounting rules
  • increased FUTA wage base and tax rate

Effects and controversies[edit]

The scheduled increases in accelerated depreciation deductions were repealed, a 10 percent withholding on dividends and interest paid to individuals was instituted, and the Federal Unemployment Tax Act wage base and tax rate were increased. Excise taxes on cigarettes were temporarily doubled, and excise taxes on telephone service temporarily tripled, in TEFRA.[3]

President of the United States Ronald Reagan agreed to the tax hikes on the promise from Congress of a $3 reduction in spending for every $1 increase in taxes. Some conservatives, led by then-Congressman Jack Kemp, claim that the promised spending reductions never occurred.[4] One week after TEFRA was signed, H.R. 6863 - the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 1982 which Ronald Reagan claimed would "bust the budget" [5] was passed by both houses of Congress over his veto.[6] Four years later, then-budget director David Stockman, however, stated that Congress substantially upheld its end of the bargain, and cites the Administration's failure to identify management savings and its resistance to defense spending cuts as the key impediments to greater outlay savings.[4]

The original TEFRA bill as passed by the House lowered taxes.[7] The Republican-controlled Senate replaced the text of the original House bill with a number of tax increases, and the bill became law after President Ronald Reagan signed it. A lawsuit was filed by Garrison R. Armstrong claiming that TEFRA violated the Origination Clause in Article One of the United States Constitution which requires all revenue bills to originate in the House. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled against Armstrong, saying

We therefore conclude that the Senate did not exceed its authority under the origination clause when it proposed the extensive amendments that ultimately became TEFRA.

In 1988, libertarian political writer Sheldon Richman described TEFRA as "the largest tax increase in American history." In 2003, former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett wrote in National Review that "TEFRA raised taxes by $37.5 billion per year", elaborating, "according to a recent Treasury Department study, TEFRA alone raised taxes by almost 1 percent of the gross domestic product, making it the largest peacetime tax increase in American history."[8] However, this "increase" was achieved primarily through the cancellation of future tax cuts scheduled by ERTA the year before that had yet to take effect at the time of TEFRA's passage.[9] Taxpayers still receive $375 billion in tax cuts in the 3 years following TEFRA.[9]

A chart from the United States Department of the Treasury study[2] showing the bill's effect on government revenues is reproduced below. As it shows, the TEFRA increased tax revenues by almost 1% (0.98%) of GDP, in marked contrast to the 1981 tax cuts and the milder effects of the other Reagan-era tax bills. The study makes note that these government revenue estimates do not take into account the effect of the bills on GDP, and therefore, are not inclusive of resulting increases in revenue that could occur from an increase in GDP:[2]

The bill also created a hospice benefit to the Medicare program for the terminally ill with a 1986 sunset provision. It allowed States to add a hospice benefit to the Medical program.

Revenue effects of major tax bills enacted under Reagan (as percentage of GDP)[2]
Number of years after enactment
Tax bill1234First 2-yr avg4-yr avg
Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981-1.21-2.60-3.58-4.15-1.91-2.89
Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 19820.531.
Highway Revenue Act of 19820.
Social Security Amendments of 19830.
Interest and Dividend Tax Compliance Act of 1983-0.07-0.06-0.05-0.04-0.07-0.05
Deficit Reduction Act of 19840.240.370.470.490.300.39
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 19850.
Tax Reform Act of 19860.410.02-0.23-
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 19870.190.280.300.270.240.26


  1. ^ Pub.L. 97–248, 96 Stat. 324, enacted September 3, 1982
  2. ^ a b c d Office of Tax Analysis (2003, rev. September 2006). Revenue Effects of Major Tax Bills (PDF). United States Department of the Treasury. Working Paper 81, page 12. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  3. ^ Congressional Budget Office, "The Economic and Budget Outlook: Fiscal Years 1984-1988" (February 1983).
  4. ^ a b Stockman, David A., "The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed" (Harper and Row, 1986), pp. 368-369.
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ [3] Armstrong v. United States 759 F.2d 1378
  8. ^ Bruce Bartlett (2003-10-29). "A Taxing Experience". National Review. 
  9. ^ a b Jodie T. Allen (16 August 1996). "The Biggest Tax Increase in History". Slate.