It seems almost obligatory to write a story about the 100th day of the Obama administration, but when youre in the news business, you ignore these kinds of artificial milestones at your own peril.
So what can we say about Obamas hundredth day in office from a tax and accounting perspective? Well, actually, theres a lot to say. Between the stimulus legislation, the budget, the peek at Barack and Michelles joint return with its millions in income from The Audacity of Hope and other best-sellers, along with all that confusing tax guidance from the IRS staff, and the changes at the top in nearly every agency, the past 100 days have seen some significant moves already.
Obama wasnt kidding when he talked about change. This administration is shaping up to be a real game-changer, and its already met the test of being historically significant starting from the day he was inaugurated as the first African-American president of the United States.
But leaving aside the obvious markers, Obama is making an impact on not only the budget process but also on the administrations approach to tax legislation. The reports that the administration and congressional Democrats plan to use the so-called reconciliation process to fast-track passage of the budget and health care reform may not exactly reconcile them very quickly with their Republican colleagues, but it has been used in the past to push through the Bush tax cuts and Clinton-era welfare reform legislation, so its not exactly unprecedented.
Still, reconciliation is bound to upset what little vestiges of bipartisanship remain in Congress after 100 days of Obama and eight years of Bush II. Even Arlen Specter has given up on being a Republican.
And what of the rest of the 100 days of tax reform? Well, there was the enactment of Obamas signature campaign pledge, the Making Work Pay tax credit, albeit at a reduced level, in an attempt to keep the stimulus package from getting stratospherically expensive (or at least keep it in the lower stratosphere, rather than the upper).
Plus, there were all the goodies thrown into the legislation during the conference committee stage, like tax credits for first-home purchases and new car purchases, which apparently didnt have much effect on keeping the good old Pontiac brand alive, not to mention Hummer and Saab.
For those accountants who dont do tax work, there were other changes in the past 100 days of note in Washington. Probably the most attention-grabbing was the spectacle of Republicans and Democrats joining hands across the aisle to pummel FASB Chairman Bob Herz and SEC acting chief accountant James Kroeker, and twist their arms until they promised to sufficiently alter mark-to-market accounting rules in time for banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to publish glowing first-quarter results. They complied and now theyll get another 100 days to find some ways to change the accounting standards so the banks can post even better results in the second quarter.
Then perhaps theyll have managed to convince investors to give them enough money again so they can repay all those funds they got from the financial bailout in the waning days of the last administration. And then their executives wont be subject to the porous rules on executive compensation and they can once again walk away with lavish bonuses instead of zero-dollar salaries. At least until Congress raises taxes on so-called carried interest compensation, the kind earned by hedge fund and private equity managers. But, if they keep contributing to congressional campaigns, who knows if thats ever going to happen?
Wait another 100 days, or better yet 1,000 days, and then maybe well see.
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