Ahead of Trump’s much anticipated tax announcement on Wednesday, the WSJ reports that the president has ordered his (mostly ex-Goldman) White House aides to accelerate efforts to create a tax plan “slashing the corporate rate to 15% and prioritizing cuts in tax rates over an attempt to not increase the deficit” which means that without an offsetting source of revenue, Trump is about to unleash the debt spigots, a proposal which will face fierce pushback from conservatives as it is nothing more than a continuation of the status quo under the Obama administration, and may well be DOA.
The WSJ adds that during an Oval Office meeting last week, “Trump told staff he wants a massive tax cut to sell to the American people” and that it was “less important to him if the plan loses revenue.”
Hoping to add a sense of dramatic urgency – after all his 100 day deadline hits on Saturday – Trump told his team to “get it done,” in time to release a plan by Wednesday.
Translation: Trump’s massive tax cut will be funded by debt, and as a result, will be at best temporary as it will be in breach of the revenue constraints in the reconciliation process; at worst it will never happen as it will now require Democrat votes.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss Mr. Trump’s tax proposals with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch and House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas. The meeting comes in advance of a Wednesday announcement by Mr. Trump about his principles for tax policy.
While Trump promised to cut corporate rates to 15% from 35%, with the BAT now out of the picture, there aren’t enough business tax breaks that could be repealed to offset the fiscal cost, meaning such a move would increase budget deficits, the WSJ notes. Roughly, each percentage-point cut in the tax rate lowers federal revenue by $100 billion over a decade, so a 20-point cut would cost the government $2 trillion, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.
And, as we noted above, the fact that Trump has flip-flopped on revenue offsets may have also doomed Trump’s tax plan: as the WSJ points out:
“any plan that adds to budget deficits would be difficult to advance on Capitol Hill, for both procedural and partisan reasons. The president’s fellow Republicans, who control both the House and Senate, are aiming to pass a tax bill through a process known as reconciliation, which means they wouldn’t need votes from Democrats. However, bills passed under reconciliation can’t increase deficits beyond the typical 10-year time frame against which tax and spending policies are projected.”
Meanwhile, The House Republican tax proposal calls for a 20% corporate tax rate, with the cost covered by including a border-adjustment feature that taxes imports and exempts exports. Trump’s White House has sent mixed messages about whether it would support the border-adjustment plan.
Asked Monday if the president’s tax plan would be revenue-neutral, meaning it wouldn’t add to the debt, Mr. Mnuchin told reporters that it would “pay for itself with economic growth.” By that he meant that the administration expects to be able to project faster growth due to tax cuts, which would in turn increase revenue and avert the risk of bigger budget deficits. Many economists doubt whether economic growth can ramp up on a sustained basis without a big pickup in productivity and labor-force growth, and it is uncertain the tax-policy changes would do that.
“They will lose a boatload of revenue that we can’t afford to lose and far more than this team will offset by closing loopholes,” said Jared Bernstein, who was an economic adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden. Cutting marginal tax rates for businesses could generate some economic growth, he said, but not nearly enough to pay for itself with increased revenue.
“These promises about all kinds of growth and investment that are going to be triggered by these tax cuts never appear, and the empirical historical record is clear on that,” Mr. Bernstein said.
In other words, that makes it “difficult if not impossible for Republicans to pass a deficit-financed tax cut that doesn’t expire without getting Democratic votes in the Senate. Democrats are against large tax cuts for corporations, especially at a time when Mr. Trump is proposing cuts to government spending programs they prioritize, like housing, arts and the environment.”
It also means that as Compass Point’s Isaac Boltansky wrote earlier today, Trump’s release of tax details on Wednesday will likely deliver only “a vague generalization” of his goals in coming tax reform effort; and, if the WSJ is correct in laying out Trump’s uber-ambitious plan, the generalizations will also be impossible to be implemented, effectively killing most if not all hope of tax reform for the foreseeable future as the bickering between Democrats and Republicans will be effectively insurmountable.
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