The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The GOP tax plan is to let the rich pay less and make you pay more

A sign on the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

President Biden, consistent with his idea of building an economy from “the bottom up and the middle out,” has tried to get the rich and big corporations to pay more taxes. The MAGA GOP, abandoning all pretense of populism, has a scheme to junk the progressive tax code and replace it with a national sales tax, with devastating results for the middle class.

That tells you a lot about the contrasting visions of the two parties. One still fights for the little guy in practical, concrete terms while the other proposes one harebrained scheme after another with no regard to the needs of average Americans.

Biden’s American Rescue Plan expanded the child tax credit for a year and permanently made it fully refundable, meaning that parents receive the money regardless of how much they owe in taxes. Keeping his promises not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 a year and to get businesses to pay more, Biden raised $300 billion in revenue in the Inflation Reduction Act by placing a new tax on stock buybacks and enacting a minimum tax on big corporations. To the chagrin of tax cheats (and their sympathetic Republican politicians), the law also boosted funding for the Internal Revenue Service to crack down on tax evaders.

None of these were radical changes in the code. More far-reaching plans to increase the individual top marginal tax rate, to boost the corporate tax rate, to equalize tax treatment of capital gains and ordinary income for those making more than $400,000, and to eliminate the step-up basis for the estate tax never passed.

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The principle underlying all of these measures, which would be comparatively small adjustments that would not hit the vast majority of Americans, was simple: The rich have made out very well and should pay more taxes; working- and middle-class taxpayers shouldn’t.

“Over the past 40 years, the wealthy have gotten wealthier, and too many corporations have lost their sense of responsibility to their workers, their communities and the country,” Biden said in a speech in September 2021. “CEOs used to make about 20 times the average worker in the company that they ran. Today, they make more than 350 times what the average worker in their corporation makes.” He added, “Since the pandemic began, billionaires have seen their wealth go up by $1.8 trillion. That is, everyone who was a billionaire before the pandemic began, the total accumulated wealth beyond the billions they already had has gone up by $1.8 trillion.”

That grotesque widening of income inequality offends most Americans, who consistently tell pollsters the rich should pay more.

GOP politicians and their wealthy donors see things differently. The first tax measure proposed by the MAGA House was to try to take back funding for the IRS to chase down tax cheats.

“The debate should focus on one accurate and alarming number: the IRS has 2,284 fewer skilled auditors to handle the sophisticated returns of wealthy taxpayers than it did in 1954,” Chuck Marr of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote. “The decade-long, House Republican-driven budget cuts have created dysfunction at the IRS, where relatively few millionaires are now audited.”

But allowing tax cheats to avoid paying what they legally owe is not the sum total of the GOP thinking on taxes. “As part of his deal to become House speaker,” Semafor reported, “Kevin McCarthy reportedly promised his party’s conservative hardliners a vote on legislation that would scrap the entire American tax code and replace it with a jumbo-sized national sales tax.”

A mammoth 30 percent sales tax would be grossly regressive, socking it to the same working- and middle-class families Republicans ostensibly worry are paying more at the pump and grocery store because of inflation.

You know the idea is rotten when Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, blasted the move. He told Semafor: “This is a political gift to Biden and the Democrats.” Even Norquist knows that because the poor and middle class spend a much higher percentage of their income on necessities such as food and clothing, the impact would be devastating.

Unsurprisingly Democrats leaped at the chance to blast the scheme. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted:

Biden also hammered Republicans: “National sales tax, that’s a great idea. It would raise taxes on the middle class by taxing thousands of everyday items from groceries to gas, while cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans.”

The GOP plan boils down to this: Let rich tax cheats get away with not paying what they owe while redoing the entire tax system so the overwhelming burden will fall on those less able to pay. Genius! Well, if you are a Democrat running in 2024.

The plan is unlikely even to get a vote. But it is indicative of the utter lack of seriousness that pervades the GOP. They throw out one boneheaded idea after another, hoping to please some segment of their base or donors, with nary a care in the world for the needs of their constituents nor for the actual challenges we face.