Right Wing Propaganda Tank IPI Likes the Trump Tax-Cuts-for-the-Rich “framework”

Right Wing Propaganda Tank IPI Likes the Trump Tax-Cuts-for-the-Rich “framework”

There’s no surprise here.  The Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI) is a right-wing “think” (i.e., propaganda) tank that has consistently argued for tax policies that favor multinational corporations and the wealthy.  So IPI has a posting on Sept 29 that is supportive of the so-called “tax reform framework” put out by the Trump administration.

As an earlier post noted here, the Trump framework is a wish list for the wealthy, providing one tax cut for the ultra rich after another:

  • elimination of the estate tax (that only affects the heirs of estates worth more than $11 million);
  • territoriality (that advantages multinational corporations that actually operate from the U.S. but claim headquarters in low-tax jurisdictions);
  • a flat 25% rate on “pass-through income” that gives almost a 15% rate cut to wealthy owners of partnerships in the real estate, joint venture, oil and gas and other businesses (and affects very few true small business owners whose effective tax rate is already no more than 25%, if that much);
  • elimination of the top rates on the progressive individual rate structure (reducing the top rate from 39.6% to 35% (or less));
  • reducing the statutory rate for corporations to a low 20%, when corporations already pay much much less in taxes than they have generally paid under the income tax system while making record profits and paying their key managerial personnel the kind of salaries and percs that have exacerbated the increasing income inequality gap in the U.S.;
  • elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), a provision that was enacted to ensure that wealthy taxpayers are not able to use so many loopholes and special provisions that they escape taxation altogether on their income (the elimination of the AMT being a pro-wealthy tax cut that ordinary folk in the lower two-thirds of the income distribution will benefit not one whit from); and
  • permitting immediate expensing for five years of equipment and similar expenditures by businesses (another provision that will allow mega corporations to make even more profits that can be shared–through bonuses, higher salaries, and share buybacks with the wealthy managers and shareholders of the enterprise and a provision that runs explicitly counter to the actual economics of the business, in which new equipment stays at close to original value in the early years with wear and tear actually economically backloaded onto the last years of the useful life).

As a result of these provisions, the wealthy who own the vast majority of financial assets (including stock in corporations and partnership interests in real estate and other partnerships) will enjoy hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax cuts.  In fact, the major portion of the tax cuts will go to the very wealthy who need them least.

Meanwhile, the rate of taxation on the lowest income group in the country, the bottom percentile, would be increased by 20% (from a 10% rate to a 12% rate)–a truly significant and revealing increase for people who are struggling to make ends meet in an “as needed” worker environment where steady full-time jobs for a regular paycheck are vanishing as corporations call workers in when they want them and send them home sometimes after only a few hours.  (This is of course accompanied by a continuing right-wing assault on worker rights and the attempt to shrink labor’s power and ability to negotiate with extraordinarily powerful employers in unison rather than individually.)  While the standard deduction (and possibly child care credits) will be increased, the personal exemptions will be eliminated, as well as perhaps other deductions that sometimes stave off disaster, such as the medical expense deduction.  This means that many of the low to lower-middle income  families with children will pay the much higher rate of tax on a larger portion of their income–i.e., their taxes will increase. For the rest of the lower income and middle income classes, tax relief will be minimal–a few hundred to a thousand dollars, most likely.

Note that the members of the Republican Party establishment who are pushing this framework have in the past said that they were very concerned about deficits.  Their concern about deficits was the purported reason for limiting the infrastructure plan to jumpstart growth after the Great Recession.  Their concern about deficits was the purported reason for nearly shutting the government down time after time over the decision to raise the debt limit for payment of debt obligations the United States government had already incurred.  Their concern over deficits was a purported reason for wanting to “reform” Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security–the programs that exist to help the most vulnerable Americans.  But now those same Republican Party establishment figures are saying they don’t care at all about the deficits.  They are willing to allow the deficit to mushroom in order to give yet another gigantic tax cut to the very wealthy.  The budget resolution put forward by the Senate Budget Committee would allow a $1.5 trillion tax cut over 10 years, but this plan is likely to cost between $3 trillion and $7 trillion (or more).  (Note that the $1.5 trillion figure already includes gimmicky thinking–instead of using the actual law as the baseline, the GOPers are assuming a baseline that assumes that expiring tax cuts don’t expire, which gives them more room for additional cuts than if they had to account for actually extending those tax cuts too.  So much for McConnell’s pledge that any tax reform would have to be revenue neutral.  See Tentative U.S. Budget-Tax Deal Gets Nod from Two Republicans, Bloomberg (Sept. 19, 2017).   Republicans, as usual, claim dynamic scoring will work, because it will show that growth will make up for lost revenue.  Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican tax cut ideologue, claimed that tax-cut induced growth would actually reduce the federal deficit, and Wisconsin Senator Johnson agreed (especially with the aid of “dynamic scoring”, maybe done outside the CBO). Id. Sadly, that is not supportable.  This is utter hypocrisy.

And while Trump and various functionaries in his administration have explicitly said that their tax “reform” framework is meant to aid the middle class and not give a bunch of tax cuts to the wealthy, there’s no evidence in support of that statement.  Their program aids the wealthy and ignores or harms the middle class and poor.  See, e.g., Trump Says His Tax Plan Won’t Benefit the Rich–He’s Exactly Wrong, The Atlantic.com (Sep. 29, 2017); Trump Proposes the Most Sweeping Tax Overhaul in Decades, NY Times (Sept. 27, 2017) (noting that Trump described the overhaul as “an economic imperative” for whom “the biggest winners will be the everyday American workers as jobs start pouring into our country, as companies start competing for American labor and as wages start going up at levels that you haven’t seen in many years” though there was scant detail on how working people would benefit from “a proposal that has explicit and substantial rewards for wealthy people and corporations”). Trump explicitly said in his Indianapolis speech that wealthy people like him would not benefit (see New YOrk Times article, cited above). And Mnunchin said the same thing months ago (“no absolute tax cut for the upper class”). See  Trumps Tax Plan: Prioritize Cuts for the Rich. That statement is simply not true, since the estate tax, the AMT and the reduction of taxes on pass-through income and on corporate income would each directly benefit the Trump family. He also said the framework would “protect low-income and middle income households, not the wealthy and connected”.  See New York Times article on Indianapolis speech, above.  Again, that statement is simply not true:  it will provide huge tax breaks for the wealthy and connected and minimal tax breaks or even tax increases for the low and middle income households. And Steve Mnunchin effectively admitted that the plan will result in tax breaks for the rich, essentially by disingenuously claiming that you can’t do a tax cut aimed at the middle class without also giving something to the rich.  See, e.g., Eric Levitz, Trumps Tax Plan:  Prioritize Cuts for the Rich, Say He Isn’t, Daily Intelligencer, New York Mag.com (Sept. 27, 2017);  Can’t guarantee tax cut for entire middle class: Mnuchin, Reuters.com (Oct. 1, 2017) and by saying that the statement that there would be no tax cut for the rich “was never a promise. It was never a pledge…It was [just] what the president’s objective was”.  Trumps Tax Plan, NYMag.com (Sept 27, 2017). And of course, Gary Cohn, similarly has refused to guarantee that no middle-class family would face a tax increase.  See Cohn, Mnuchin Draw Line on Corporate Rate, Tease Debt Reduction, Tax Analysts.org (Sept. 29, 2017) (Mnunchin claiming $2 trillion of growth with a claim that the tax cuts would cause a 2.9 percent GDP growth rate over the decade and a cut in the deficit; Cohn claiming enough growth to pay for the entire tax cut).  Note that one of the gimmicks that Mnunchin used to avoid the real effect was to separate the estate tax from the regular income tax cuts–so they admit that they are benefitting the wealthy with the estate and AMT taxes, and then claim they are not with the income taxes.  In fact, the income tax cuts also are beneficial for the wealthy.

By the way, as a tax professional and tax academic, I can tell you many ways that you can provide tax cuts for the middle class and poor without providing tax cuts for the rich. Just to consider a few:

  • do not eliminate the estate tax–it only taxes the very wealthiest of the wealthy, so it can only benefit the very wealthiest of the wealthy.  The claim that eliminating the estate tax “saves” small businesses and family farms has been debunked time after time.
  • do not eliminate the AMT–it only taxes the top quintiles of the income distribution.  If you want to save the affluent rather than the real middle class, you can structure the AMT to hit only the top quintile.
  • do not cut the corporate tax rate to 20%–that primarily benefits the wealthy who own most of the financial assets and hold the high-paying managerial positions
  • do not cut the pass-through tax rate to 25%–that only benefits the ultra wealthy, since small businesses already pay a rate at or below 25%
  • do not move to a territorial tax system–that primarily benefits the wealthy and will do nothing to increase jobs;
  • do not increase the bottom rate paid by the low-income Americans from 10% to 12%–that only hurts those taxpayers.
  • do not eliminate the highest tax rates (the investment income tax, etc.)  Consider adding a financial transaction tax.
  • eliminate the “carried interest” provision that allows wealthy managers of joint ventures to enjoy capital gains instead of ordinary income rates on their compensation along with, often deferral of any income inclusions.
  • eliminate the section 1031 like-kind exchange provision, that benefits real estate professionals like the Trump clan with near permanent deferral of income.

As Ron Wydon put it “if this [Trump/GOP] framework is all about the middle class, then Trump Tower is middle-class housing. It violates Trump’s tax pledge that the rich would not gain at all under his plan by offering sweetheart deals for powerful C.E.O.s, giveaways for campaign coffers, and a new way to cheat taxes for Mar-a-Lago’s loyal members.” Id.  In other words, saying it is for the middle class is a whopping fairy tale.  And of course, it doesn’t provide any particulars about the nitty gritty issues that would have to be addressed, like preventing abuse of the 25% pass-through rate, limiting the deductibility of interest expense, or phasing out the expensing write-off after 5 years.  Anyone with any understanding of the history of tax provisions knows that lobbyists will start immediately with demands for 1 or 2 year extensions to the expensing elimination, and as soon as the public’s awareness of the issue has ebbed, Congress will cave and make it permanent.

IPI likes the plan, nonetheless, because most of the things that IPI claims are “pro-growth” tax policies are actually “pro-wealthy” tax policies that have almost no evidence in support of helping to spur greater growth.  IPI specifically mentions expensing (highly profitable for large corporations, since smaller companies can already expense most new investments); the move to territoriality (favors multinational corporations that have moved their key IP abroad); the elimination of the AMT (favors the wealthy); the elimination of the estate tax (favors the ultra wealthy); and the reduction of corporate tax rates from a statutory 35% rate (paid by almost no corporation) to a statutory 20% rate (lower than the statutory rate of our so-called “competitor” nations, that also have a VAT, which the US does not have).

There is no real evidence that any of these tax changes will spur economic growth, and Congress has never funded the research that would be necessary to show that they do or don’t.  It has depended on little more than Arthur Laffer’s napkin drawn curve (not based in empirical evidence) and general Chicago School “free marketarian” and “trickle-down” theories.  Oh, and gimmicks like using “dynamic scoring” that assumes a large rate of growth to justify tax cuts that otherwise clearly create huge deficits.  Kansas’s experiment in slashing taxes for businesses and wealthy was supposed to prove that cutting taxes was a great way to engender growth.  It proved exactly the opposite.  Reagan’s 1981 tax cut was supposed to prove that big tax cuts cause huge economic growth–instead, deficits mushroomed and every other year of his term there were tax increases of one kind or another–mostly hitting little guys and not the wealthy.  Similarly, Bush 2 cut taxes and saw a surplus turn to a deficit, and ended his term with a Great Recession because of a speculative boom fueled by loose money in banks and financial businesses.

In contrast, there is real evidence that public expenditures to improve infrastructure, protect the environment, support basic research not funded by corporations, and fund educational opportunities have real positive impacts on economic growth that is beneficial for the entire society.

Let’s call a spade a spade.  This plan for so-called tax “reform” is really just a smokescreen for shrinking government and making it even harder to protect the environment, enforce the laws, make polluters stop polluting, protect the vulnerable and do the other things that the people acting together through government can do but that the people each acting individually simply cannot do.  Like Trump’s typical lies (about how “great” his response to the Puerto Rican devastation has been, when he waited days to act, sent much fewer military personnel much later and otherwise treated Puerto Ricans like unimportant Americans compared to the way he treated Texas and Florida), the tax “reform” framework is a lie.  It is a boon for the rich, a boondoggle for the poor and middle class, and a bad joke for the future economic growth of the country.

And that’s why Trump has already started threatening Democrats that don’t support his plan.  In his Indiana address, he threatened to campaign against Democratic Senator Donnelly if he did not support the tax boon for the rich that will result in at least a $2 trillion increased deficit over a decade.  (Of course, given his failures with Senator Strange in Alabama, maybe that threat, like so much else Trump does, is truly hollow.)