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Throughout the 2016 campaign, presidential candidate Donald Trump has claimed he would raise taxes on himself and other rich individuals, even while promoting a detailed tax plan that would do precisely the opposite.
Trump this weekend attempted to clarify this inconsistency. He remains, he says, committed to his regressive tax proposal, but he’ll rely on legislative negotiations with Congress to ensure the middle class doesn’t get the short end of the stick. If he means what he says, that’s a novel political tactic, to say the least.
Trump’s inconsistency on taxes came to a head last week, when he responded to criticisms that his plan would lavish huge tax cuts on wealthy Americans by saying ambiguously that he is “not such a huge fan of that.” Trump added that he is “so much more into the middle class” in his approach to tax reform.
Yet Trump’s comments are incompatible with the tax plan he announced last fall, which would reserve a stunning 37 percent of its tax breaks for the very richest 1 percent of Americans while cutting federal revenues by $12 trillion over a decade.
On the Sunday talk-show circuit, a number of interviewers sought to clarify this discrepancy. Speaking on “Meet the Press,” Trump reiterated that his plan would “lower the taxes on everybody very substantially,” but clarified that his negotiations with congressional leaders would likely turn his plan upside down: “For the wealthy, I think, frankly, it’s going to go up. And you know what, it really should go up.”
Trump made a similar forecast in his appearance on “This Week”: “On my plan, they’re going down. But by the time it’s negotiated, they’ll go up.” In other words, Trump stands behind the details of his plan but expects that a Congress suddenly hungry to tax the rich more would turn it upside down. If this is truly his position, it’s perplexing but it means he believes a wholesale failure to pass his tax proposal would qualify as effective leadership.
Presidential candidates routinely seek to appeal to the voting public by proposing vague tax platforms that promise big tax cuts to middle-income families, but they often omit the vital details that would be required to score these plans. Trump has emphatically not taken this approach. To his credit, Trump months ago released a comprehensive and detailed plan that left little open to interpretation. If Trump now thinks his plan is bad policy, he owes it to the American public to outline, in similar detail, what he thinks tax reform should look like.