IDEAS HAVE consequences, which is why we are not just going to ignore President Trump’s proposal for cutting the middle class’s taxes by 10 percent, on top of the tax cuts already delivered by the $1.2 trillion 2017 plan he and the Republican Congress enacted. As is often the case with Mr. Trump’s policy utterances, this one appears improvised, blurted out to reporters in Nevada and repeated amid a campaign rally in Texas. Yet he has insisted on it, claiming Tuesday that “we’re putting in a resolution probably this week,” notwithstanding the fact that Congress is not in session. And in keeping with his party’s general strategy of enabling the president, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) issued a statement claiming that “over the coming weeks” the GOP will come up with actual legislation. “Take him seriously,” added National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow.
Okay: Taken seriously, this is a deeply irresponsible idea. Before we explain why, however, we have to admit that we have no clearer sense exactly what Mr. Trump is talking about than he does. Ten percent of what? Who counts as middle class? The Post’s Erica Werner and Damian Paletta estimate that a 10 percent cut in the income taxes of all households earning less than $200,000 per year would cost $61 billion a year, according to Internal Revenue Service data.
Defined as the middle fifth of the income distribution scale, the middle class does not need more income tax cuts. According to a 2016 Congressional Budget Office study (based on data compiled before the 2017 tax law), households in that stratum received about 14 percent of total before-tax income and paid about 9 percent of federal taxes. An October 2017 report from the Pew Research Center reached conclusions consistent with the CBO’s. Public-opinion data show no clamor for tax cuts; for the past 15 years, roughly half of Americans have told Gallup that they pay either the right amount of taxes or too little.
Mr. Trump’s idea would be slightly less reckless if it were true, as he says, that “we’re doing other things which I don’t have to explain now, but it’ll be pretty much of a net neutral.” There is zero reason to take him seriously on that pledge, but even a paid-for middle-class tax cut would still be unnecessary. It would mean that Congress had slighted some other priority for the sake of something that should not be a priority at all. A partial exception might apply if Mr. Trump’s offsetting revenue came from raising taxes on the wealthy, but somehow we don’t think that’s what he has in mind.
Rather, he’s attempting a cheap political trick near the end of a midterm campaign in which middle-class voters have not responded well to the 2017 tax cuts, partly because those did favor the wealthy and businesses. The truth is that the United States needs a long-term plan for fiscal sustainability that would probably require middle-class Americans to pay a bit more for the government services they evidently want and need. Telling the truth, though, is not Mr. Trump’s strong suit.