After almost 100 days in office, President Trump has finally found his forte: one-page tax plans.
That's how long his first one was last September, and how long his new one was Wednesday. There's a reason for this. If you compare them side-by-side, you can see that Trump's two main innovations this time around are using bullet points and offering less specificity. Everything else is just about the same.
Indeed, the “new details” of Trump's new plan aren't new and aren't details. They're more like an Oprah-themed wish list: you get a tax cut, and you get a tax cut, and you in the top 1 percent really get a tax cut. Trump, you see, wants to slash the corporate tax rate from 35 to 15 percent, reduce individual tax rates across the board, double the size of the standard deduction, eliminate the estate tax, the alternative minimum tax and the Affordable Care Act investment taxes, and supposedly pay for it all by closing unspecified loopholes. This was his plan during the campaign, and, despite all the fanfare about his "big announcement," it's still his plan today. About the only change is that he now says he'd get rid of the state and local tax deduction.
Well, that and the fact that he doesn't know where he'd set his tax brackets anymore. Back in September, he said that under his proposal a married couple would pay 12 percent on their first $75,000, 25 percent on anything between $75,000 and $225,000, and 33 percent on anything above that. But even that minimum level of detail is absent from his latest version. All he says now is that he'd have three brackets of 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent. (He tweaked the first and last ones a little). Good luck trying to figure out what you'd owe.
But that's not the biggest difference between them. No, the biggest difference is that the first edition of Trump's plan was merely wildly implausible, while the slightly updated second one is actually impossible. It has to do with the rules for what's known as budget reconciliation. Those rules say that you can pass a bill with just 51 votes in the Senate instead of the 60 votes Republicans would need (but do not have) to beat a filibuster so long as it doesn't add to the deficit after 10 years.
That matters, because the $6 trillion or $7 trillion that the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says Trump's plan would cost over the course of a decade is too much to realistically pay for just by closing loopholes. So he'd have to do what George W. Bush did with his own tax cuts: pass them with the provision that they'd expire in 10 years' time. Except that, according to the official scorekeepers at the Joint Committee on Taxation, wouldn't work either, because the costs of a corporate tax cut like the one Trump is proposing are so long-lasting that even a three-year-long cut would lose money after 10 years.
In other words, Trump's tax plan doesn't have enough specifics to actually be called a plan, but the specifics it does have would keep it from ever being a plan.
If you were appropriately cynical, you might say that Trump has just trolled everybody into acting like his campaign tax plan is some major new development, all so that he can claim he's getting things done in the first 100 days he's obsessed over so much. After all, printing something out that you had online and reformatting it with bullet points isn't normally construed as “progress.” Not even if you're a college kid trying to pass your outline off as a final draft.
Maybe next time Trump should try using bigger fonts so that his plan goes onto two pages and looks twice as good.