No one should be surprised that the House Republicans want to go back to the tax-cut well and draw up buckets more in tax cuts for their wealthy donor base. The plan they introduced Monday doubles down on everything that's wrong with the plan they passed at the end of last year. Its benefits go largely to the wealthy, thereby exacerbating inequality. Were it to become law, it would rob the Treasury of trillions more in lost revenue. And it does nothing to help the many in the working class who have long been hurt by being on the wrong side of the inequality divide this new bill would worsen.
I'm not just talking about long-term damage. The figure below shows what's happened to some key inequality indicators since Trump took office. The first bar shows that since 2016, corporate profits are up a healthy 4.5 percent (all figures adjusted for inflation). But thanks to the big corporate tax cuts in Tax Cut 1.0, after-tax profits are up about 15 percent, while the S&P equity index, which excitedly prices in expectations of continued post-tax profitability, is up almost 20 percent. Hourly pay for middle-wage workers, however, is up less than 1 percent.
Analysis by Chuck Marr and Branden Duke find that Monday's proposal would pile on the trends in the figure. It would cut taxes by about $32,000, or 2.2 percent, for the richest 1 percent of households while the bottom 60 percent would come away with about $340 (1 percent). The proposal also locks in "the doubling of the amount that the wealthiest households can pass on tax free to their heirs, from $11 million per couple to $22 million." These reckless tax cutters are still regaling anyone foolish enough to listen to them with trickle-down fairy tales, but such tax policy will obviously only amplify the extent to which current economic growth is boosting profits, not paychecks.
For anyone who recalls the long debate that preceded the 2017 cuts, this is all totally familiar. So here's something you may not have heard, even if you're following this debate: According to the revenue scorekeeper, the Joint Tax Committee, the revenue losses from this extension bill would cost about $650 billion over 2019 to 2028. But Bob Greenstein, the president of Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, points out that this is a huge underestimate of the long-term cost of the new bill.
You see, because the bill just extends tax cuts that were scheduled to end in 2026, that $650 billion mostly reflects the costs toward the end of budget window through 2018. But here's Greenstein's key point: "We estimate that the legislation would cost roughly $2.9 trillion over 2026 to 2035, the first full decade it would be in effect."
Now, what else happens in 2026? It "is the first year in which all members of the baby boom generation — including the youngest — will be eligible to draw Social Security retirement benefits. It’s also the year in which the oldest baby boomers will turn 80; people in their 80s have higher health-care costs, on average, than younger seniors do. The nation will need more revenues to help meet these and other challenges, such as a decaying infrastructure, not fewer revenues."
Let's be very clear about this next point: That collision of greater revenue needs to fund the social insurance programs of Social Security and Medicare and the loss of $3 trillion in revenue is a feature, not a bug, of this bill. It's a "twofer": Reward the donor base, yet again, while also undermining future support of these highly popular, extremely effective programs that Republicans have long sought to undermine.
I don't know if this plan has legislative legs. I've heard Republican senators make some noises about fiscal recklessness, but experience shows their noises mean nothing. Certainly, near-term political outcomes could make or break this bill. In the meantime, it would be foolhardy to dismiss its potential damage as politically unrealistic. In the age of Trump and his compliant partisans, no terrible idea is unrealistic.