That’s a Tax Plan?

by on April 27, 2017 in Economics, Politics

Well, no, it isn’t. It’s a draft of a sketch of an outline of a synopsis of what a tax plan might look like were it designed exclusively to serve the interests of the drafter/sketcher/outliner.

With great fanfare and pomp the White House rolled out its “huge”tax plan. As predicted it is not a plan, it is a tax cut for the wealthy.  And, also as predicted, it is more ghost than real. The entire thing fits onto one side of a piece of paper. It is a typically bureaucratic bullet-point presentation of suggestions that Congress might, or might not, want to take into consideration as it works on its own tax plan.

The entire thing is a farce. It is yet further confirmation that Trump has no clue about governance, or about legislation, or about anything much to do with being president. Oh well, he’s what we’re stuck with.

But, what the piece of paper tells us is interesting. It gives us insight into the minds of the plutocrats that now control the country. Let’s be honest: neither Gary Cohn nor Steve Mnuchin, the two ex-Goldman Sachs financiers who make up Trump’s economic team, are so stupid as to believe that massive tax cuts will lead to extraordinary economic growth. They know better. It’s just that after four decades of selling tax cuts to voters the Republicans have discovered that most people are sufficiently blinded by the prospect of a sliver of gain for themselves that they will happily ignore the torrent of gold that floods into the coffers of the wealthy.

The moral bankruptcy of the sales pitch is breathtaking. It ignores the recent example of the state of Kansas under the leadership of Governor Brownback. Kansas became a test bed for the more virulent form of conservative tax theory that Trump’s erstwhile plan embodies. And the Kansas experiment has been an unmitigated disaster.

Not only did Kansas not benefit from a surge in employment when it slashed taxes — it has seen weaker employment growth than most other states — but its budget was thrown into chaos. The state’s credit rating has been cut. It has had to undergo crisis financial management that includes cuts to popular services like education. And it still is in fiscal turmoil. None of the promised benefits from the tax cuts turned up. On the contrary: Kansas has become a fiscal basket case and a premier example of why far right tax plans are to be avoided at all costs.

Yet here we are with Trump trying to turn the entire US into Kansas.

Why?

It isn’t because he is clueless. Nor is it because he is ill-informed. Cohn and Mnuchin are too smart for that. It is because he is a plutocrat. It’s as simple as that. Trump himself will get a tax cut of around $30 million a year from his own plan. On any other planet that would smell of corruption, but in planet-USA it is positioned as a pro-growth strategy to generate jobs for the plebes.

Now, I could support a thorough revision of the US tax code. It is so ridiculous and riddled through with special interest driven exceptions that it needs tossing out and totally re-inventing. At one point in his presentation Cohn mentioned that the intention was to produce a radically reduced and simplified tax code. Great, but the one page we were given didn’t get us there. Instead it featured a breathtaking giveaway to the wealthy and to business.

Republicans are always telling us that the US tax rate for corporations is the highest in the western world. That’s true, it is. But corporations don’t pay the nominal rate, they pay a much lower rate after taking all sorts of deductions that lobbyists have managed to insert into the tax code. That’s why the code is so complicated. Most large companies pay a very low actual rate of tax. Many pay nothing at all, even after making enormous profits. The same is true of wealthy taxpayers who can exploit all sorts of loopholes to minimize their tax rates.

Most people know this. Yet the Republicans keep up with the special pleading anyway.

Trump’s suggestions do include a few things for the average voter: the old seven tax brackets are condensed into three, although we have no idea at what income levels these brackets kick in; and the standard deduction would be doubled, meaning there would be virtually no tax below an income of $24,000. The plan is decidedly partisan in one way at the individual level: it would do away with a whole host of popular deductions that have particular impact in typically Democratic states like California and New York. Those states tend to have higher local taxes to pay for their higher quality education systems and public services. Eliminating the ability to use those local taxes as a Federal deduction would put huge pressure in those states to cut services like education. The Republicans apparently want to turn the entire country into Alabama or Mississippi. The want to initiate a race to the bottom in public service. Right now low quality service tastes benefit from an inflow of residents who have been educated in higher quality service states. Their workforces do not reflect their own service levels but those elsewhere. Once we have squeezed quality down everywhere, those inflows will cease.

Worse: since the higher quality service states are typically those where the economy is strongest, they have sent to Washington tax revenues far in excess of any subsidies they receive back. In effect the blue states pay into and the red states draw out from the Federal Budget. Trump’s tax plan will exaggerate the subsidy the blue states pump into the red states. At some point this will have to become an explosive political issue. Right now most taxpayers are blissfully unaware of it.

Fortunately, none of this matters much.

This meager beginning is just a start in what will be a long and drawn out battle. Most of what we saw yesterday will not make it into the final package that emerges from the arcane processes of Congress.

Oh, and we will now see just how committed the Republicans are to their fiscal conservatism. After years of bleating about the deficit during the Obama years will they simply “do a Cheney” and suddenly argue that deficits don’t matter? The Trump plan would blow hole of up to  $7 trillion in the budget over the next ten years. Either the Republicans have to let that happen or they need to find ways to cover the gap. Current Senate rules forces any tax legislation with a life beyond ten years to be “revenue neutral” — they must not add to the deficit —  this is why the Bush tax cuts were phased out after ten years, or they would have been had they not been re-upped. So do the Republicans go for another ten year deal? Or do they tackle the tax code once and for all?

The Trump plan gives us no insight. It isn’t worth the paper it is written on. So it’s a good job there wasn’t much paper involved.

One last thing, for all of you who thought a vote for Trump was a vote for fair trade: the Trump tax plan has abandoned his much ballyhooed tax on importers. He caved to pressure from the retailing industry.

What a negotiator!

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