The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Finance 202: 'Biggest tax cut in American history' isn't popular with many Americans

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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story published Nov. 17, 2017, referred to previous reporting in The Washington Post that Belarusan-American businessman Sergei Millian had been a source of information for a dossier of unverified allegations against Donald Trump. In November 2021, The Post removed that material from the original 2017 story after the account was contradicted by allegations in a federal indictment and undermined by further reporting. References to the initial report have been removed from this piece. 


Applause from GOP members broke out in the House of Representatives after it passed their tax bill on Nov. 16. (Video: U.S. House of Representatives)

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Addressing a black-tie crowd at the National Building Museum on Thursday night, Vice President Pence hailed congressional progress toward what he said would be the “biggest tax cut in American history.” 

As he spoke, less than a mile away the Senate Finance Committee was racing to wrap up work on a tax bill that will hand large cuts to the wealthiest while raising taxes on those earning between $10,000 and $75,000 over the next decade. That’s according to a new analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation. (And Pence's claim, which President Trump also has made repeatedly, is false, as my colleague Glenn Kessler has demonstrated)

Republicans are making rapid strides toward approving a tax package, the cornerstone of their agenda. The House passed its version of a bill with some room to spare Thursday just two weeks after it was introduced. Senate prospects are less assured, considering the party’s narrower margin and blowback from a critical number of Republicans there, although the Finance Committee approved its plan along party-lines late Thursday night. 

But if internal disagreement doesn’t stymie it first, the party’s argument for the project is on a collision course with the nonpartisan scorekeepers’ assessment of it. 

From The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis and Damian Paletta’s report on Thursday’s action: 

The House bill delivers more than 80 percent of its overall cuts to corporations, business owners and wealthy families who are subject to the federal estate tax, according to estimates released by the Joint Committee on Taxation. But most middle-class Americans would see an immediate tax cut because of a lowering of individual tax rates, the near-doubling of the standard deduction and a larger child tax credit.

But under the House bill, many households that itemize their deductions — taking advantage of write-offs for state income taxes, medical expenses and more — could see immediate tax increases. In future years, the benefits of the bill for individuals wane because of the phaseout of a key tax credit and because the bill would change how the government calculates inflation, moving them more quickly into higher tax brackets.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) had a tense exchange during a markup of the GOP tax bill on Nov. 16. (Video: Senate Finance Committee)

The Senate plan has significant problems of its own when it comes to lower- and middle-income workers. To comply with the chamber’s budget rules, the bill prioritizes permanent corporate cuts over breaks for individuals that sunset after a decade. But those at the bottom of the income scale would see tax hikes sooner than that. My colleague Heather Long explains

Tax increases for households earning $10,000 to $30,000 would start in 2021 and grow sharply from there, JCT found. By 2027, most Americans earning $75,000 a year or less would be forced to pay more in taxes, while people earning more than $100,000 a year would continue to pay less. The report generated intense debate on Capitol Hill.

Most of the hit to poor and working-class Americans would come from the Senate Republicans’ push to insert a major health care change into the tax bill. Republicans are repealing the requirement that all Americans buy health insurance or face a penalty, a move that would lead to 13 million more uninsured Americans, the Congressional Budget Office has said. Many of those people earn modest incomes and currently receive tax credits and subsidies from the government to help them afford insurance. If the Senate GOP bill becomes law, premiums are expected to rise and millions would likely opt not to buy insurance anymore, meaning their tax breaks would go away, explained Thomas Barthold, head of the JCT.

Voters may not have studied the JCT’s distributional tables, but they certainly get the point. A Quinnipiac poll released this week showed they disapprove of the GOP tax plan by 52 to 25 percent. And by 59 to 33 percent, they think the proposals benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. 

The Post's Glenn Kessler:

Republican voters unsurprisingly view their party’s tax agenda much more favorably than the broader electorate, approving of it by 60 to 15 percent, the survey found. That may be all Republican lawmakers care to consider as they stoke a sense of urgency behind notching a quick win on a tax package.

But the Quinnipiac poll also found that Democrats have a 13-point edge over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot — a result that tracks with a recent Marist poll showing Democrats with a 15-point advantage. As the Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter wrote Thursday, “Do not ignore what’s right in front of us. A wave is building. If I were a Republican running for Congress, I’d be taking that more seriously than ever.”


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How they voted. The NYT has this breakdown.

From The Post's Ed O'Keefe:

HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery:

NYT's Shane Goldmacher:

The takeaway: The roster of House Republicans opposed to the bill flashes a warning signal: 12 of the 13 who voted against it hail from high-tax states, whose residents would lose some of their ability to deduct state and local taxes from their federal burden. House GOP leaders initially proposed eliminating the break altogether, settling on a compromise to stem a revolt by their members from California, New Jersey, New York and beyond. Yet the Senate version relies on full SALT repeal, causing no static for Republicans in the upper chamber who don't represent the high-tax blue states but, left untouched, could doom the package in the House. 

Here's how the House and Senate bills otherwise compare, via the NYT's Alan Rappeport. And here's Heather Long's rundown of what's in the House bill. 

Ryan's big win. Politico's John Bresnahan: "President Donald Trump got a boost Thursday with passage of the House tax bill, but the biggest winner may be Speaker Paul Ryan. Loathed by the Breitbart wing of the Republican Party — which sees Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as Trump’s biggest obstacle to making America great again — the Wisconsin Republican scored a major victory in Thursday’s 227-205 vote to pass a massive tax-cut package that dramatically alters the U.S. tax code.

While the Senate still has to pass its own version of the bill, and the two chambers then have to cut a deal to resolve key differences, it’s a win for Ryan. Like repealing and replacing Obamacare, Ryan can claim the House has done its job, and it’s over to you, Mitch McConnell. And it’s worth pointing out that even in the Trump era, the biggest legislative win so far for Trump is an issue that Ryan has been working on for virtually his entire career."

Fortune's Chris Matthews (sarcastically):

CNBC's Sara Eisen (not sarcastically): 

Republicans warned. Mike DeBonis: "The leader of the most prominent super PAC charged with electing Republicans to the House next year delivered a blunt warning to GOP lawmakers ahead of Thursday’s House vote on a $1.5 trillion tax bill: If you want our help, you had best vote for this bill. Corry Bliss, who runs the Congressional Leadership Fund, which has close ties to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and high-dollar GOP donors, said in an interview that Republicans who vote against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Thursday should not assume they would have the group’s support going into a grueling midterm election year. 'CLF will never spend a dollar attacking a Republican,' Bliss said. 'But CLF is going to raise and spend $100 million to protect the Republican majority. CLF, like any organization, will allocate resources to friends and family first.'"

Bloomberg's Steven Dennis:

Dems’ Very Bad Day. Democrats mostly criticized Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) after allegations that he initiated inappropriate sexual contact with USO performer Leann Tweeden.

The Post’s Dave Weigel: “And it has all happened at the start of a tax-cut fight that Franken was supposed to help lead. The Democrats’ multilevel campaign to stop Republican-backed tax cuts, which has included ad buys, news conferences and activist pressure, was dealt a blow by Franken essentially being forced to take the bench. The senator had taken an increased, unique role in Democratic messaging this year, with a best-selling memoir, frequent use of social media and a new openness to national interviews.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), however, got a reprieve from corruption charges after a Newark jury declared a mistrial, though Mitch McConnell says an ethics inquiry will kick off and the Justice Department could retry the senator.  But Menendez seemed pretty confident yesterday, saying: “For those who were digging my political grave so they could jump into my seat, I know who you are and I won’t forget it.’’

Home builders, Realtors still oppose House bill. The Hill's Vicki Needham: "The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and National Association of Realtors (NAR) expressed continued concerns about the bill they say will hurt homeowners by rendering housing tax deductions ineffective that would likely drive down home values and push up prices."

Grad students taxed. The House bill would hike taxes by 400 percent. CNBC's Abigail Hess: "Grad students ... often afford advanced degrees by earning a tuition waiver. In these instances, graduate students will work for the university by teaching classes and/or conducting research in exchange for free tuition. According to the American Council on Education, roughly 145,000 graduate students receive this kind of tuition reduction. Some programs provide graduate students with a modest stipend for food and housing. For instance, Ryan Hill, a fourth-year PhD student at MIT, receives a $30,000 living stipend and a tuition waiver allowing him to forgo paying $50,000 in tuition. He currently pays taxes on his $30,000 stipend, but under the proposed House tax bill, his tuition waiver would also be taxed — meaning he would be taxed as if he was earning $80,000 a year."

The cost for cities. Bloomberg's Elizabeth Campbell: "The Republican-led House Thursday passed its version of a tax-code overhaul that pulls the tax-exemption from investments in so-called private activity bonds that finance projects like airports, water facilities and roads, promising to make financing tens of billions of dollars worth of public works each year more expensive. And, like the Senate’s plan, it would do away with advanced refundings, a technique municipalities frequently use to refinance their debt when interest rates fall... 

It will mean a lot to local governments. Advanced refundings saved them an estimated $11.8 billion in the five years through 2016, according to data compiled by the Government Finance Officers Association. The proposed tax changes would likely result in higher interest costs for municipal borrowers and strain their budgets, according to S&P Global Ratings."

The provision would hurt airports, too. More, from Bloomberg's Mark Niquette: "The House measure would eliminate a form of tax-exempt debt called private-activity bonds. That would leave Los Angeles World Airports, which runs LAX, with the choice of scaling back projects in its $14 billion modernization plan or finding $500 million in new revenue because of higher borrowing costs, Chief Financial Officer Ryan Yakubik said in an interview. 'Certainly, it had been made clear that infrastructure was a great priority, and that finding ways to do that was important,' Yakubik said. 'This doesn’t seem pointed in that direction.'"

Private jet loophole. The Hill's Josh Delk: "The latest version of the Senate Republican tax reform bill includes a break for companies that manage private jets. A measure in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would lower taxes on some of the payments made by owners of private aircraft to management companies that help maintain, store and staff those planes for owners. The language would exempt owners or leasers of private aircraft from paying taxes on certain costs related to the upkeep and maintenance of the jets, according to a description from the Joint Committee on Taxation."

Trump: Welfare reform next. The Hill's Scott Wong: "Trump told House Republicans that he wants Congress to tackle welfare reform after it finishes work on a sweeping tax bill that would slash the corporate rate. The remarks came during a rare Capitol Hill visit by Trump ahead of a House vote on the tax bill, which lawmakers are expected to approve in a party-line vote. A confident, jovial Trump said he expected the Senate to also pass tax reform and eventually deliver a bill to his desk, which would give Republicans their first major legislative victory of the Trump era."

Former Podesta Group CEO launches new firm (Politico)


Mulvaney for CFPB? The Post's Renae Merle and Damian Paletta: "Trump is considering naming Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on an interim basis, potentially setting up the watchdog agency for a massive overhaul, according to a person briefed on the planning. Mulvaney, who once called the CFPB a “joke,” would replace Richard Cordray, one of the few remaining Obama-era banking regulators, who announced Wednesday that he plans to step down as the agency’s director by the end of the month. If given the job, Mulvaney would probably lead both agencies until a permanent head of CFPB is chosen and confirmed by the Senate, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. The offices of the OMB and the CFPB are across the street from each other in Washington."

Politico's Jake Sherman:

Otting confirmed. Politico's Victoria Guida: "The Senate voted to confirm Joseph Otting as comptroller of the currency on Thursday, putting the former banker in charge of a regulator he once battled with over his firm's foreclosure practices. The vote was 54-43, with two Democrats voting in favor of President Donald Trump's nominee.

Otting was CEO of OneWest Bank, a lender co-founded by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that drew criticism over its handling of foreclosures after the financial crisis. The bank was scolded by its federal regulator in 2011 for not properly overseeing the loans of thousands of people at risk of losing their homes and was bound by a consent order for four years. Now, it will be Otting's job to punish such violations by national banks. His background has sparked a fierce backlash against the nomination from Senate Democrats."

Antitrust chief signals more 'structural remedies' in merger deals (Washington Examiner)

Election officials move closer to placing new rules on Facebook and Google (Hamza Shaban)



Kushner dodges. Karoun Demirjian: "Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner received and forwarded emails about WikiLeaks and a 'Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite' that he kept from Senate Judiciary Committee investigators, according to panel leaders demanding that he produce the missing records ... Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell on Thursday charging that Kushner has failed to disclose several documents, records and transcripts in response to multiple inquiries from committee investigators.

In the letter, Grassley and Feinstein instruct Kushner’s team to turn over “several documents that are known to exist” because other witnesses in their probe already gave them to investigators. They include a series of 'September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks,' which the committee leaders say Kushner then forwarded to another campaign official. Earlier this week, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. revealed that he had had direct communication with WikiLeaks over private Twitter messages during the campaign.

Committee leaders said Kushner also withheld from the committee 'documents concerning a ‘Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite’ ' that he had forwarded to other campaign officials. And they said Kushner had been made privy to 'communications with Sergei Millian' — a Belarusan American businessman who claims close ties to the Trumps — but failed to turn those records over to investigators."

Former Obama administration official Ron Klain: 

Hicks marks the spot. Politico's Darren Samuelsohn: "Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is preparing to interview the woman who’s seen it all: Hope Hicks. She’s been part of Donald Trump’s inner circle for years, first at Trump Tower and then as an omnipresent gatekeeper and fixer who could get emails or other communications directly to the boss during the 2016 campaign. 

As a senior White House adviser and now as communications director, she’s been in the room for moments critical to Mueller’s probe, which has grown to include the president’s response to the Russia investigation itself. Hicks’ history with Trump makes her one of the more useful witnesses for Mueller as he looks for insights into the president’s habits and moods. She also is one of the few people well positioned to recount the president’s reactions at various moments as the Russia scandal has sidetracked his presidency — including the Mueller appointment itself.

Mueller’s decision to request an interview with Hicks — who hasn’t been named in any criminal wrongdoing — also indicates he’s reached a critical point in the overall investigation, according to former prosecutors and veterans of past White House investigations. Typically, conversations with such senior-level aides are saved for near the end of a probe."


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Bitcoin Hits Record Just Days After a 29% Plunge (Bloomberg)



  • The Cato Institute Policy Perspectives 2017 is scheduled.

Fact Check: Are poor Americans carrying the tax burden of the individual mandate?:

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said the poor carry the individual mandate's tax burden, but he left out a few specifics. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

Here’s what Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has said about sexual violence:

Broadcaster Leeann Tweeden said Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) “forcibly kissed” and groped her in 2006. Here’s what Franken has said about sexual violence. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Late-night comedians Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and others had a lot to say about the allegations against Franken:

Late-night comedians Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and others had a lot to say about Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and sexual harassment. (Video: The Washington Post)

Actress Meryl Streep spoke out about her own experiences with violence at an annual award show by the Committee to Protect Journalists:

Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep spoke out about her own experiences with violence at an annual award show by the Committee to Protect Journalists Nov. 15. (Video: Reuters)