WASHINGTON – Add this to the growing file folder that can be labeled “Depressing but not Surprising”: The only thing today’s Republican Party knows how to do is cut taxes for the very rich.
It’s depressing because the GOP has abandoned roles it once played in our public life: pioneering programs aimed at assisting Americans of modest means in lifting themselves up; and supporting productive government investments that the private sector was unlikely to undertake.
The party of Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell has abandoned the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, who championed the Homestead Act and land-grant colleges; Teddy Roosevelt, who protected vast tracts of nature on behalf of future generations; and Dwight Eisenhower, who pushed for student loans and the Interstate Highway System.
Heirs to Honest Abe, TR and Ike seem to believe in only one thing: throwing vast quantities of money at the already wealthy. And they have the nerve to pretend that they aren’t really trying to further enrich the moneyed classes. They claim that comforting the comfortable will someday, really and truly, help working people by creating jobs and economic growth.
They pretend a lot of other things, too. They say their goal is to “simplify” the tax system, so they reduce the number of individual income tax brackets to three. Isn’t it funny that in their “simplification” the tax rate for the richest among us (people earning over $418,400 a year) drops from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, but the tax rate for the poorest (those earning less than $9,325 a year) actually goes up, from 10 percent to 12 percent?
The GOP apparently believes that taxing the poor is part of the recipe for growth. Now there is an innovative idea.
The Republicans claim that this tax increase will be offset by other provisions. But there is no way to know exactly how their tax scheme would work because they have still not put out a full plan. All they have offered is a sketch.
For eight months, Republicans told us that they would enact a tax bill. Yet, they still can’t show us the whole thing.
In fact, for a large swath of the middle and upper-middle class, this is not a tax cut at all, but a tax increase. Using the details available, the Tax Policy Center concluded that nearly a third of taxpayers with incomes between $50,000 and $150,000 would see their taxes go up, as would a majority of those making between $150,000 and $300,000.
There is much that is very bad here, but perhaps the most insidious aspect of the bill is the part that might be called the Punish Our Opponents Tax Act of 2017.
To pay for their tax cuts for the rich, Republicans propose to make the tax code “fairer” by getting rid of the deduction people can take for the taxes they pay to state and local governments. Republicans rail against “double taxation” of income when it comes to capital gains. But they have no problem with double taxation when it hurts taxpayers in states that ask their citizens to pay a bit more to provide decent public services and stronger social safety nets.
As The Wall Street Journal reported, the states with the largest deductions for state and local taxes as a percentage of adjusted gross income are New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California and Maryland. All voted against Trump. Republican House members from the higher-tax states may yet scuttle this provision that belies the GOP’s devotion to States’ Rights.
Naturally, a tax proposal designed to pamper the super-rich does exactly that for a man named Donald Trump. The New York Times estimated his savings at around $1 billion. But his refusal to release his tax returns conveniently clouds how much he'll get.
Heather Long of The Washington Post’s Wonkblog usefully listed “nine ways Trump’s tax plan is a gift to the rich, including himself.” One of the biggest boons to the wealthiest Americans is the complete repeal of the estate tax, which is paid on only the very, very, very largest fortunes. They account for only two-tenths of 1 percent of all estates. Talk about a carefully tailored benefit for the Savile Row suit crowd.
And imagine this: Republicans want to use this deficit-bloating, inequality-enhancing, inflation-courting, social-justice-insulting monstrosity to prove they can actually govern.
E.J. Dionne’s email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.