Kristof and Collins

In “This Isn’t Tax Policy; It’s a Trump-Led Heist” Mr. Kristof says for all of the president’s talk of helping ordinary Americans, they’re not the big beneficiaries of his plan.  Ms. Collins has a question in “Trump’s Can’t-Do Record:”  Who expected 100 days of dull?  Well, maybe for different values of dull…  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

What do you do if you’re a historically unpopular new president, with a record low approval rating by 14 points, facing investigations into the way Russia helped you get elected, with the media judging your first 100 days in office as the weakest of any modern president?

Why, you announce a tax cut!

And in your self-absorbed way, you announce a tax cut that will hugely benefit yourself. Imagine those millions saved! You feel better already!

I’m deeply skeptical that President Trump will manage to get a tax reform package passed into law, and that’s just as well. Trump’s new tax “plan” (more like an extremely vague plan for a plan) is an irresponsible, shameless, budget-busting gift to zillionaires like himself.

This isn’t about “jobs,” as the White House claims. If it were, it might cut employment taxes, which genuinely do discourage hiring. Rather, it’s about huge payouts to the wealthiest Americans — and deficits be damned! If Republicans embrace this “plan” after all their hand-wringing about deficits and debt, we should build a Grand Monument to Hypocrisy in their honor.

Trump’s tax “plan” is a betrayal of his voters. He talks of helping ordinary Americans even as he enriches tycoons like himself.

For example, it’s great that the tax plan promises help with child care costs, a huge burden for low-income families, especially single moms. But Trump doesn’t explain what form his help will take.

Maybe he will eventually provide details, but in his campaign tax plan (which over all seems similar to the latest), fewer than 10 percent of low-income households with children would get anything at all, according to a study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center in February. It added that under the campaign plan, families earning between $10,000 and $30,000 a year would receive an average child care benefit of just $10.

In fairness, Trump’s proposal does include some sensible elements. Raising the standard deduction is smart and would simplify everything, reducing cheating and the need for record-keeping because millions of filers would no longer itemize deductions.

But the heart of Trump’s “plan” is to lower taxes for corporations and the affluent. It would eliminate the alternative minimum tax, without which Trump would have paid less than 4 percent in taxes for 2005; with it, he paid 25 percent.

Conservatives emphasize that the official top corporate tax rate in the U.S. is too high, and they have a point. The top rate for American corporations — almost 39 percent, including a 35 percent federal rate and a bit more for the average state rate — is among the highest in the world, according to the Tax Foundation.

Yet that’s deeply misleading, because most companies don’t pay that rate. The Government Accountability Office found that two-thirds of active corporations paid no federal tax. Even large, profitable corporations paid an average federal rate of only 14 percent — and Boeing, Verizon, General Electric and Priceline paid no federal income tax over a five-year period, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.

There’ve been many studies showing that the U.S. effective marginal rate for corporations is in the same ballpark as in other industrialized countries (some say it’s a bit lower, others a bit higher).

So, sure, let’s lower the official corporate tax rate while reducing loopholes, but don’t pretend this will create a ton of new jobs.

Where the tax plan would have a big impact is in empowering some very wealthy people, because of another bit of chicanery in the proposal: Trump apparently would allow some business owners to dodge personal income tax by paying at the much lower corporate rate. In other words, tycoons would try to structure their incomes to pay not at a 39.6 percent top personal rate but at a 15 percent corporate rate.

This isn’t tax policy; it’s a heist.

Then there’s the elimination of the estate tax. The White House talks solemnly about protecting family farms and other businesses, but give us a break! The estate tax now affects only couples worth more than $11 million. About one-fifth of 1 percent of Americans are affected — but the estate tax does limit the rise of inequality and assures a hint of fairness, since much of the wealth in rich estates has never been taxed at all.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says Trump’s tax “plan” would be paid for partly “with growth” — which means that he has no idea how to pay for it. The Tax Policy Center examined Trump’s campaign tax plan and found it would cause the federal debt to rise by at least $7 trillion in the first decade, and more than $20 trillion by 2036 — slowing growth, not raising it. To put the latter number in perspective, that’s additional borrowing of about $160,000 per American household.

Effectively, we’d borrow from China or other countries to finance huge tax breaks for Trump and his minions. And this is populism?

I can’t wait until Prof. Krugman takes this on…  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Well, heck, who said Donald Trump isn’t going to accomplish anything in his first 100 days? All of a sudden there’s a one-page tax plan and a raft of deal-making, while the Senate was bused over to the White House grounds for a briefing on North Korea.

Maybe the president believes that when you can make an entire chamber of Congress ride around like so many tour groups, the world will understand that you’re a can-do kind of guy.

Trump wasn’t actually in public for any of this. Outside of congratulating the National Teachers of the Year, the man himself was in sight only for events in which he announced that a cabinet member had been directed to look into something.

On Day 97, Trump first appeared before the cameras to tell us the secretary of the interior is going to review previous presidents’ habit of saving federal lands from development. Federal land, Trump reminded the audience, “belongs to all of us.” He then called for turning it over to the states.

His recent predecessors have tried to defend places like a gorgeous section of Utah called Grand Staircase-Escalante by declaring them national monuments. You can do that because of a law called the Antiquities Act that goes back to Theodore Roosevelt. Republicans love to brag about Theodore Roosevelt, except when he was protecting the wilderness.

People, I want a show of hands: How many of you would like to see coal mining at the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument? I thought so.

Trump, who took only one question, seemed extremely proud of himself when he announced this new study-the-issue initiative. Other politicians, he confided, were always telling him: “You’re doing the right thing. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do some of these things.”

Second show of hands: How many of you think politicians are actually telling the president that if they were in his shoes they’d be too chicken to favor the energy industry over environmental protection programs? I know they can be craven, but really.

Everybody knows that Trump wants a can-do record when he hits Day 100 on Saturday. To get there, he appeared to be adopting the garb of Somewhat Normal Republican (SNORE). The House leaders were working out an agreement with conservatives on health care, tossing people with pre-existing ailments over the rail. The administration seemed ready to make a deal with Democrats to keep the government running. And his new tax plan is almost identical to the approach his recent Republican predecessors have taken, which is basically to cut the heck out of revenue and to hell with the deficit.

“The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth,” said Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.

The idea that huge tax cuts will gin up the economy so much that everything will balance out is a beloved fairy tale. It can be found in the same book as “The Beauty Starves the Beast,” which tells the saga of a handsome prince who cut down a thicket of taxes, and was saved from a witch’s curse when Congress arrived with matching cuts in spending.

The president was not around for the news conference in which his plan was revealed, in the form of a super-short press release. (The description of how the administration wants to help families with child care costs was, in total, “providing tax relief.”)

For a man who loves drama, Trump’s domestic role lately has been super undramatic. While the senators were getting off their buses, Trump went before the cameras to announce that he’s directed the secretary of education to investigate whether there are too many federal regulations of public schools.

We can already guess where this one is going, so there wasn’t a lot of suspense — the high point of the event was his introduction of the new governor of Alabama, who had arrived at her office through the time-honored method of waiting for her superior to get driven out of office in a sex scandal.

It’s a bit ironic that Trump makes such a show of directing his cabinet members to do things when the administration hasn’t gotten around to nominating their top staff. Do you think Mnuchin would have had a longer tax description to hand out if he had an assistant secretary for tax policy?

This is going on all over the government. But then who needs an ambassador in Afghanistan or South Korea?

The Democrats, meanwhile, are gearing up for battle on the tax cuts — once they figure out exactly what they are. The super-easy response is just to say that before Trump asks Congress to do anything, he should show us his taxes. This came up at the press conference, and Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin’s response was approximately the same as if someone suggested his boss might want to disembowel puppies.

“The president has released plenty of information and I think has given more financial disclosure than anybody else,” he said quickly and with deep inaccuracy.



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