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GOP wants to push to extend Trump tax cuts after midterm elections

Republican lawmakers gear up to push 2017 tax law after midterm elections, despite potential impact on inflation

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), right, in his office with former House speaker Newt Gingrich on Sept. 22. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Republicans plan to push to extend key parts of President Donald Trump’s tax cuts if they take control of Congress in this fall’s elections, aiming to force President Biden to codify trillions of dollars worth of lower taxes touted by his predecessor.

With Democrats likely to lose control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate, Republicans are preparing to advance legislation that would make permanent the GOP’s 2017 changes to the tax rates paid by individuals. Republican officials will also push for scrapping some of the law’s specific tax increases on corporations that were designed to offset the cost of their enormous overall cut to the corporate tax rate.

Less than a month and counting until the November midterms

Many economists say the GOP’s plans to expand the tax cuts flies against their promises to fight inflation and reduce the federal deficit, which have emerged as central themes of their 2022 midterm campaign rhetoric. Tax cuts boost inflation just like new spending, because they increase economic demand and throw it out of balance with supply. But Republicans say they believe these efforts would put Biden in a political bind, requiring him to choose between vetoing the tax cuts — giving the GOP an attack line in the 2024 presidential election — or allowing Republicans to win on one of their central legislative agenda items.

Newt Gingrich, who served as the speaker of the House in the 1990s and is in communication with senior Republican leaders, said a similar strategy was successful at forcing both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to enact tax cuts that they would not have otherwise supported, after both of those Democratic presidents lost control of Congress.

Biden is likely to find himself in a similar position, Gingrich said.

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“The trick is to put the president in a position of either getting defeated in 2024 or signing your stuff into law,” Gingrich said. “Republicans will make it a priority to continue the Trump tax cuts, because it puts the Democrats in a position of being for tax increases and against economic growth.”

Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), one of the contenders to lead the Ways and Means Committee in a GOP House, told C-SPAN last month that the first legislation he would aim to advance would be to extend the 2017 GOP tax cuts for individual taxpayers.

Without a filibuster-proof majority, Republicans would likely have to peel off several Democrats to pass such measures through the Senate to force Biden’s hand.

“We have temporary tax policies that have been good for the middle class — we need to make those permanent,” Smith said.

The White House said a statement that it was undaunted by the GOP’s plans to push for extension of the Trump tax cuts and was prepared to resist efforts to expand the law.

“While President Biden and congressional Democrats are fighting to make middle class families the heart of our economy. … Republicans want to sell those families out to rich special interests and by doubling down on their 2017 tax giveaway to the ultrawealthy and corporations,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said.

The fight over Trump’s tax cuts could become a key feature of divided government should Republicans take control of one or both branches of Congress. Congressional lawmakers and the White House will have to come to agreements over funding the government, averting a breach of the debt ceiling and other spending bills — negotiations that will give the GOP an opportunity to press their policy demands. Democrats used control of the House after the 2018 midterm elections to push Trump into accepting many of their priorities, such as expanded domestic spending and paid leave for federal workers.

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The GOP’s plans to push hard on the tax cuts have come into fuller view in recent weeks. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) last month released an economic blueprint that said the party backs legislation spearheaded by Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) that would make permanent much of the 2017 tax law — including doubling the standard deduction claimed by most taxpayers and reducing the top rate paid by most taxpayers from 39.6 percent to 37 percent. McCarthy’s blueprint also calls for enacting the plan by Rep. Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.) to make permanent a 20 percent deduction claimed by firms operated as pass-through entities, as well as a half-dozen other GOP bills aimed at tax incentives for start-up businesses, tax breaks on intellectual property transferred to the U.S., deductions on business interest, and other measures aimed at making permanent or enacting new business tax breaks.

Senate Republicans also largely support those efforts, according to interviews with a half-dozen congressional aides and outside policy experts.

“It’ll be a battle royale in Washington over the next year over which of Trump’s tax cuts get extended,” said Stephen Moore, an economic adviser to Trump and many leading congressional Republicans. “This will be a central, driving theme of the Republican Congress — making those tax cuts permanent.”

The legislative battles could start before the end of this year. Republicans are already pushing extension of three corporate tax breaks — including two that expired at the end of last year and a third that starts to expire next year. Collectively, these three measures would add roughly $600 billion to the federal deficit over 10 years if extended, according to nonpartisan estimates, outstripping the cost of Biden’s student debt relief program (the cost of which many Republicans have criticized) and increasing federal spending at a time of surging inflation.

The 2017 GOP tax cut centered on a massive cut to the rate corporations pay, the cost of which was partially offset by ending corporate tax breaks with the expectation that lawmakers would later prevent them from actually being eliminated. Democrats tried to increase the corporate tax rate as part of their economic legislation this year, but failed in large part because of opposition from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). They instead passed a minimum tax only on very large corporations.

The richest Americans get a $33,000 tax break under the GOP tax law. The poorest get $40.

“The Republicans did not want to look like they were giving too much away to businesses, so they had some of the business relief expire and had some offset by business tax increases,” said Steve Rosenthal, a policy analyst at the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank. “Now to come back and extend business relief and reverse the increases would mean further tilting our tax system toward the rich and the powerful.”

Republicans are also planning to push for reductions in government spending, although the exact contours of that policy appear less clear. Bloomberg Government reported Tuesday that the four House Republicans seeking to lead the House budget committee are all exploring changes to Social Security and Medicare to reduce costs to the federal budget, seeking to use the debt ceiling or government shutdown to force the issue.

But analysts say it may be more likely that the extension of the tax cuts is paired with spending increases sought by Democrats. Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement, for instance, that additional business tax relief should only pass if Democrats secure funding for one of their policy priorities, such as Biden’s Child Tax Credit.

That combination would increase the deficit even more than only adding spending or only cutting taxes would.

“What I worry about is the kind of horse trading where Republicans get tax cuts, Democrats get expanded tax credits, and the American people are stuck with the bill,” said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan think tank that advocates for lower deficits.

Still, the GOP’s push for tax cuts could also undermine their claims to be determined to bring down inflation. Jason Furman, a former Obama administration economist who has been critical of Biden’s spending record, said the GOP plans would increase inflation at a time of the fastest price hikes in decades.

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“The corporate tax cuts the Republicans are pushing would add to inflation, add to the deficit, and do little or nothing for economic growth,” said Furman, now a professor at Harvard. “They were a budget gimmick to start with. Extending them without paying for them now would be doubling down on the original gimmick.”

But Republicans say they are committed to extending the cuts. “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has been providing real, substantial relief to families and businesses,” said Rep. Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, in a statement. “We need to build on that success by making permanent those policies that are supporting families and workers while looking at what more needs to be done to the tax code.”

Jacob Bogage contributed to this report.