Five things to watch for in Trump’s tax plan

Story by The Hill
Written by Naomi Jagoda

President Trump is set to release his tax plan today.

The announcement of the administration's principles for tax reform will begin a new debate with Congress as the president nears the end of his first 100 days in office.

It appears Trump will leave the actual reveal to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn, who will be at the White House press briefing on Wednesday afternoon.

They’re slated to meet the press at the same time Trump has a scheduled meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The tax plan is hotly anticipated on Capitol Hill and Wall Street, where markets are craving economic action from the new government in Washington.

Presidential leadership is seen as crucial to tax reform’s success. Congress last passed tax reform legislation in 1986, when it was a top priority of President Reagan.

Here are five things to watch for today.

How much does Trump’s proposal resemble his campaign tax plan?

Trump repeatedly talked about cutting taxes during his campaign, and Wednesday’s plan is expected to include his past proposal to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent.

The Wall Street Journal also reported Tuesday that Trump will call for cutting the top rate on “pass-through” business income to 15 percent, an idea that is in line with his campaign proposals. Pass-through businesses, which include many small businesses, have their income taxed through the individual tax code.

Yet meetings between Trump’s economic team and lawmakers, businesses and industry groups suggest a potential openness to new ideas, too.

The extent to which Trump’s new tax proposals resemble his campaign plan is important because it could signal how in line the White House’s goals are with those of House Republicans.

Over the course of his campaign, Trump’s tax plan was revised to look more like the House GOP blueprint. Specifically, it adopted the blueprint’s individual tax brackets of 12 percent, 25 percent and 33 percent.

But the White House may not be married to those rates for individuals. The Journal reported that Mnuchin may want a top individual tax rate of 37 percent. The top rate under current law is 39.6 percent.

Is the proposal actually tax reform?

It’s unclear whether the White House will overhaul the tax code or limit itself to tax cuts.

Reform means reducing some taxes while eliminating other breaks to pay for the reductions and to simplify the code.

Tax cuts could be easier, because this wouldn’t involve picking winners and losers and angering lobbyists.

But tax cuts that add to the deficit could be more difficult to pass under congressional rules than revenue-neutral tax reform.

If congressional Republicans want to pass a tax bill under budget reconciliation in order to avoid a filibuster, the bill cannot increase the deficit outside of the 10-year budget window. That means tax cuts that lower revenue would need Democratic support or would need to expire.

Cohn said at an event Thursday that the administration “would like to have permanence to tax.”

But Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday” that the administration hasn’t decided yet whether it wants tax reform to be revenue neutral and that “you can either have a small tax cut that’s permanent or a large tax cut that is short term.”

What does Trump say about an import tax?

The House Republicans’ border-adjustment provision to tax imports and exempt exports has not been well-received in the Senate, so Trump’s stance on the proposal could be a significant factor in its success.

House GOP leaders argue that the proposal is important because it raises revenue that helps pay for lowering tax rates and it helps to end incentives for companies to move jobs overseas. But retailers and some lawmakers have expressed concerns that the higher taxes on imports could translate to higher prices on everyday goods.

The White House has so far given mixed signals on the proposal. Trump said earlier this month that he doesn’t like the term border adjustment but expressed some interest in a “reciprocal tax” on imports.

Media reports have indicated that it’s unlikely that border adjustability will be part of Trump’s forthcoming plan.

“My sense is they’re going to be silent” and tout the virtue of their plan rather than pick on parts of others’ plans, said Brandon Arnold, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union.

Does the plan take aim at any tax preferences?

Mulvaney said that Wednesday’s announcement will involve “specific governing principles” and some ideas the administration likes and doesn’t like. His comments suggest that Trump’s announcement won’t get into the nitty-gritty of the tax code.

But the administration has signaled in the past that it plans to limit or eliminate some tax breaks to help pay for lowering rates. Any detail will be sure to catch people’s attention.

Trump’s campaign tax plan proposed capping itemized deductions for high earners, and the White House has been considering curbing the deduction for charitable contributions.

Mnuchin said in November that there will be “no absolute tax cut for the upper class” because curbs to deductions would offset rate cuts — a pledge that Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has dubbed the “Mnuchin rule.”

How much does Trump’s proposal change the debate?

The tax reform discussion in Washington has so far largely focused on the House Republicans’ blueprint, and GOP leaders have said they want to pass legislation through reconciliation so that it doesn’t need Democratic support.

The release of a White House plan could shift the center of gravity away from the House plan. And there are some lawmakers that hope that the White House’s plan provides an opening for Republicans to work with Democrats.

“You’re going to have to do business with Democrats to try to get a tax overhaul through,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told The Hill on Monday. He noted that the 1986 tax reform bill was a bipartisan measure.

There was speculation Tuesday that the plan would likely include infrastructure spending and a tax break for childcare in an effort to entice Democrats, though reports later in the day seemed to cast doubt that the $1 trillion infrastructure plan would make it in.

But Democratic lawmakers won’t want to back a White House tax plan if they view it as largely benefiting wealthy people and large corporations. They also want Trump to release his tax returns before legislation is considered.

“I want a tax reform proposal that works for working families, not just for the people who can go out and hire a lot of accountants,” Wyden said.


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