The GOP tax bill is something that only President Trump could love. And his love for it would be huge.
There are at least five separate parts of the House legislation — which I call a “tax cut” bill because it sure isn’t “tax reform” — that will benefit Trump and his family. I originally had only three, which I called the Trump Tax Trifecta, but then my Washington Post colleagues sent me two others. So now Trump has a five-fecta.
We can’t calculate how much Trump would benefit from the House bill because he has refused to release his tax returns. But we can take an educated guess of how much he and his family stand to gain. Which is a helluvalot.
But rather than just calling out the bill’s flaws, I’ll depart from form and make some modest suggestions about how the Senate can modify it to sharply reduce the benefits the likes of Trump would gain from the legislation as it now stands, and possibly help middle- and upper-middle-class taxpayers in the process.
The first — and most obvious — piece of the Trump’s five-fecta would come from repeal of the estate tax. This would save his family more than $1 billion if he’s worth, say, $3 billion. If he were really worth the $10 billion-plus that he claimed during the campaign, which I’m sure he’s not, it would save his heirs more than $4 billion. But even $1 billion is a lot of money. How does anyone other than Trump’s heirs benefit from the estate not paying that money?
The second piece of the five-fecta would come from repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax. At least, I think it would. The AMT was created in 1969 to stop a handful of rich, tax-dodging people from paying no federal income tax at all. But over the years, the AMT hasn’t been adjusted properly, and it has morphed into a monstrosity that ensnares millions of middle-income and upper-middle-income people, including me, who have plain-vanilla tax returns with no tax shelters or other games, but pay high real estate taxes and state income taxes.
Trump may be paying a substantial AMT. His 2005 federal tax return, which became public earlier this year after tax writer David Cay Johnston got his hands on it, showed Trump paying $37.1 million of income tax, of which $31.8 million was attributable to the AMT.
If Trump has been paying AMT since 2005 — who knows? — eliminating it could save him a lot of money.
Now, we come to the third leg: reducing the rate that “passive investors” in certain kinds of “pass-through” entities would pay to 25 percent from the current 39.6 percent. (For details of what “passive investors” and “pass-through” entities are, consult your local tax expert.)
We don’t know how much Trump collects in such income, which has become passive for him since he put his children in charge of his enterprises rather than running them himself. But given that he seems to have stakes in at least 500 pass-through entities, it looks like reducing his rate to 25 percent from 39.6 percent would save him a ton of money.
Then there are the two legs that my colleagues found:
The first involves Section 3301 of the proposed legislation. This limits the deductions businesses can take for interest payments — but there’s a special and better deal for real estate businesses. Which, of course, is the Trump family business.
The second, in Section 3303, repeals “like-kind exchanges,” a prominent loophole — but has a special and better deal for commercial real estate.
And now, rather than discussing all the problems I have with the House bill, such as the way it trashes taxpayers in my home state of New Jersey and other Democratic bastions and the heartless way it wipes out deductions for people with very high medical bills, I’ll confine myself to making two suggestions that would make this bill much less pro-Trump and far more pro-average person.
First, adjust the AMT so that it applies only to people with at least $1 million of income, as opposed to the current system in which you can have $50,000 of income — about the national average — and get stuck in the AMT.
Second, if you feel the estate tax is unjust — I don’t feel that way, but I understand why some people would be angry at seeing the after-tax wealth they’ve piled up during their lifetimes taxed at 40 percent — double the amount exempt from the estate tax to $12 million a person and $24 million a couple.
I don’t like that, but I can live with it. That would eliminate the tax for many people who started with nothing and earned their way up, paying taxes as they went, but would keep the tax for people such as Trump’s family that inherit 10- and 11-digit fortunes on which little income tax, if any, has been paid.
Look, if we have to have a tax-cut bill — I don’t think we need one, but that’s a story for another day — we should at least make sure of one thing. To wit: that the leader of our country and his family don’t get billions in tax breaks at the expense of millions of middle-class people whose taxes will go up so the Trumps’ taxes can go down.
The Trump tax five-fecta makes me angry, because I don’t see any reason that my family should be subsidizing Trump’s family.
Regardless of whether you revere Trump or revile him, this presidential money-grubbing should make you angry, too.