The most striking aspect of President Trump’s tax bill unveiled today that it is not a bill at all. It’s another outline, a scheme, a failure of the most basic function of policy development.
Sure, there are more details than his one-page of bullet points released in April. The Post reports:
The White House and Republican leaders will propose slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and call for lowering the rate many high-income businesses pay through the individual income tax code to 25 percent. … In addition, they will call for lowering the top tax bracket for individuals and families from the current 39.6 percent to 35 percent, but they will also ask lawmakers to consider imposing a new, higher rate to ensure that the wealthy don’t end up receiving a disproportionate tax cut compared to the middle class and low-income families. …
[T]he GOP plan would collapse those [existing tax brackets] into three tax brackets; one at 12 percent of income, one at 25 percent of income, and one at 35 percent of income.
But what we don’t have — and the administration cannot decide upon — are all the hard parts:
- What is the income level for each bracket?
- What deductions go away or are limited?
- How much debt will it create, and what assumptions will the GOP use?
- The corporate tax rate is supposed to go from 35 percent to 20 percent, but how is that paid for? (Is it paid for?)
- Does the tax burden shift from corporations to individuals? From richer to poorer Americans?
- Is Trump breaking his word that the rich wouldn’t get anything from the bill?
This is almost as bad as saying you have a plan to buy a luxury home — just not any idea how to pay for it, who will live there, which neighborhood it is located in or the size. In a word, this latest is a stall, yet another failure of governance and leadership on the president’s part designed to shift blame to the Congress when it collapses or proves unpopular.
It’s not clear why Trump bothered to do this at all, other than to distract from a string of political and policy failures — as well as prevent a full-fledged revolt by donors and activists.
This non-leadership and refusal to make mature choices hardly comes as a surprise. Trump, the slick con man, always tells us that what he has is fabulous; he just never tells us what it is so we can assess whether it is remotely fabulous. Whether it is indecision (which appears to plague this president), cowardice, disdain for details, inability to focus or all of the above, the president acts to engender praise, not to solve problems with concrete solutions or to move legislation through the system.
Perhaps this will work out better than a Trump-devised bill. For starters, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who refuses to proceed on a strictly partisan basis, and other Republicans should go find some Democrats supportive of corporate reform (not a cut), expansion of the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit, and a cut for middle-income tax payers (which might tax the shape of a payroll tax cut).
Opponents of a debt-enlarging and inequality-creating plan of unknown dimensions will need to fight Trump’s blob with a specific, popular plan of their own that does not bust the budget nor help the rich get richer. If they merely flail at Trump’s non-plan, Trump opponents will run out of steam and support. Instead, the goal here should be to do what Trump won’t — show bipartisan leadership in support of a plan aimed at helping those who have done worse in recent years. With a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans, they can not only stop Trump, but also show him up.