What’s At Stake With Tax “Reform.”

For decades, taxation in the US has been based on a progressive tax structure, which means those who earn the most money pay the highest taxes. And those less fortunate pay the least. Similarly, corporations were taxed to help pay for the government-provided infrastructure they needed to operate. When the nation incurred substantial debt, the Congress raised taxes to reduce that debt. For example, following World War II, tax rates were raised to pay down the debt. Through the Eisenhower administration, the nation’s highest tax rate exceeded 90 percent. Yet, despite such high tax rates, the economy boomed.

Then, in the 1980’s everything changed. Based on a discredited economic theory known as trickle-down economics, Republicans began to cut taxes (and revenue) under the guise of “tax reform.” They cut the top income tax rate, as well as estate taxes and capital gain taxes – all for the benefit of the wealthy. At the same time, they repealed usury laws and eliminated the tax deductions for interest on all loans except home mortgages. All the while promising that the cuts would benefit middle Americans.

They didn’t.

Not only did they transfer much of the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class. The national debt soared. As a result, even those who originated the idea of Reagan’s trickle-down economics were forced to admit that the plan failed.

Unfortunately, Republicans have never abandoned the theory. For years, they have continued to promote the trickle-down fairy tale. They not only signed Grover Norquist’s misguided “No New Taxes” pledge. They continue to promote tax cuts as the elixir for any economic ailment. Is the economy suffering? Tax cuts will help. Is unemployment too high? Tax cuts are the answer. Is the economy booming? Tax cuts will make it even better. As a result of all this tax cutting, our national debt has continued to climb – slowing only when Democrats are in power.

Fast-forward to today. Republicans are proposing yet another tax “reform.” And just like the “reforms” of the past, it looks a lot like another round of tax cuts for corporations and the very wealthy. Indeed, if this tax plan passes and is signed into law, the deficits will, once again, soar. And the national debt will be increased by trillions. According to a report from the Urban Tax Policy Center, “Over the first 10 years, the individual income tax provisions — excluding those related to the taxation of corporations, pass-throughs, and estates — would raise $470 billion, the business provisions would reduce revenues by $2.6 trillion, and repealing the estate tax would cost another $240 billion.”

As far as I can tell, this is all part of the GOP long-range plan.

The Republicans seem concerned with deficits and debt only if they can be used as a hammer to bludgeon Democrats when they are in control. (Remember the outrage when President Obama used TARP funds to save the US auto industry? Though the impact of the bail-out on our national debt was negligible, Republicans howled that it would be a burden to future generations.) In reality, I believe the GOP plan is to push our nation more deeply into debt. Then, and only then, will they be able to reach their long-term goal of reducing the government to a size small enough that, in Grover Norquist’s words, “it can be drowned in a bathtub.” Only when the debt has reached an unsustainable level will the GOP have the ammunition needed to slash government programs regardless of their popularity or need. That is when they will be able to argue the necessity of ridding the nation of safety nets such as Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and all the varieties of welfare.

If you doubt this is the Republican goal, consider the Ayn Rand-like philosophy of the billionaires who finance the Republican Party. As mentioned in a previous post, the Koch brothers believe that government is unnecessary for anything but national defense, law and order, and social stability. And, by some counts, there are 16 people in the White House with ties to the Koch brothers. In addition, there are many more in the Republican congressional delegation who are beholding to the brothers grim of oil refining.

You must also consider that Trump’s presidential campaign was heavily funded by Robert Mercer, a man who has stated that he wants to shrink the government to the “size of a pinhead.” Worse, he apparently thinks that human beings have no intrinsic value – believing that an individual’s value should be based solely on income. In other words, someone who earns $2 million per year is 20 times more valuable than someone earning $100,000 per year. And he believes that anyone on welfare is worth less than nothing.

Obviously, the Kochs and Mercers spent hundreds of millions to elect today’s Republicans with the expectation that the Republicans would do their bidding – that they would reshape government to fit their ideas and to lower their taxes. If you think that means the Republican tax proposal will benefit you, think again.

Feeding The Rich And Starving “The Beast.”

The top 10 percent control 76 percent of the nation’s wealth. Yet a new study* found that the bottom 99.9 percent pay 175 times as much income tax as the top 0.1 percent! That’s because the wealthy use a variety of tax shelters, both offshore and in tax havens such as Delaware and South Dakota. In addition, our largest, multinational corporations dodge taxes by moving their headquarters offshore (at least on paper) and by parking large sums of cash in offshore tax shelters.

Obviously, tax reform is sorely needed, and it’s the next big item on the Trump agenda. But, with Trump and the GOP in charge, don’t expect it to benefit you. While true reform would be almost universally welcomed, the people shaping the process are all billionaires and multi-millionaires with ties to Wall Street.

What are the chances that they will introduce a bill to benefit ordinary working-class Americans?

The short answer is zero if you look at the framework being considered by the administration as reported by Politico. For example, the administration is planning to raid your 401k savings account by forcing you to pay taxes on the money up front. Other proposals include eliminating the mortgage interest deduction for homeowners, eliminating federal deductions for the money you pay for state and local taxes, and eliminating charitable deductions. All of these proposals will result in a substantial tax INCREASE for ordinary Americans. They will also punish the poor by eliminating incentives for taxpayers to donate to charities.

Even more worrying are the tax rates being proposed.

At the heart of the “reform” is a plan to reduce the number of tax brackets from 7 to 3. That, alone, will punish taxpayers at the bottom of each bracket.

Of course, there is plenty of good news in the plan for the wealthy. The new plan would repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax – a boon to many well-off households. It would repeal the estate tax, a tax that currently applies only to 2 out of every 100 estates. (The tax is levied only on the portion of an estate’s value exceeding $5.49 million per person.) The plan would repeal the tax on investment income that helps pay for Obamacare. And it would cut the top marginal rate for the wealthiest Americans from 39.6 percent to 35 percent.

The Tax Policy Center estimates that the administration’s tax “reform” plan will cut taxes by $6 trillion over 10 years with almost half of the savings going to the top one percent.

And if you’re an executive for a large corporation, the news is just as good.

Though the current top marginal corporate rate of 39 percent is one of the highest in the world, very few US corporations actually pay that rate. Indeed, according to the 2015 ranking by World Bank, the total corporate tax burden for US corporations as a percentage of profits is tied with Tanzania for 64th in the world! And our corporate taxes as a percentage of GDP are lower than 22 of 32 of the world’s most advanced nations. Yet the Trump plan would cut the corporate tax rate to just 15 percent, making it one of the lowest tax rates in the world. The plan would also create a territorial tax system permitting multinational corporations to pay tax only on income earned in the US. Just what they need – yet another tax dodge! Additionally, Trump’s proposed tax plan would gift multinationals a one-time reduced tax on the trillions of dollars currently being held offshore.

The Center for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that the cuts in corporate taxes alone will deprive the federal government of at least $2 trillion in the next 10 years! The administration’s belief is that the cuts in revenue will be offset by a yuuuge spurt of business growth. But that belief is wildly optimistic. Indeed, except in times of deep recession, there is no evidence that tax cuts grow the economy. And, following 8 years of private sector job growth, we are most certainly not in a recession.

If this plan – or anything approaching it – is approved, Grover Norquist will finally realize his dream. The federal government will be starved to the point where he can “drown it in a bathtub.”

* Study by John Hatdioannides of the Cass business school, Marika Karanassou of Queen May University and Hector Sala of the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona and IZA in Bonn.