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What To Expect From The GOP Tax Plan


Consider today the starting bell in a race to pass a tax overhaul by the end of the year. After months of closed-door meetings, the Trump White House and congressional Republicans today unveil the outline of their massive tax overhaul. Yesterday the president gave a hint of who might be getting what.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will cut taxes tremendously for the middle class. Not just a little bit but tremendously. That includes nearly doubling the standard deduction that most families take on their taxes and increasing the child tax credit.

KELLY: Also businesses are expected to get a big tax break. How big? We'll find out some details later today. We already know big questions remain, like how will the U.S. pay for the cuts? Well, we've got two views this morning on that. Former chief economist for Vice President Biden, Jared Bernstein, is here. Good morning.

JARED BERNSTEIN: Good morning.

KELLY: And conservative economist Peter Morici of the University of Maryland is also here. Good morning to you.

PETER MORICI: Good morning.

KELLY: Jared Bernstein, I'm going to let you get the first word in here, and I want you to start with what we just heard the president say - this plan will help the middle class, he says, tremendously. Will it?

BERNSTEIN: No. In fact, I suspect this plan will hurt the middle class. And, you know, you really can't trust the things that President Trump has said about this tax plan because they've been completely inconsistent with the plans that he himself has actually proposed.

KELLY: How is this going to hurt the middle class?

BERNSTEIN: In two ways. First of all, by really sharply cutting taxes at the high end of the scale, particularly for corporations, multinational corporations, and for high-end, pass-through businesses - so small businesses that make a lot of money, hedge funds, law firms - most of the benefits, about 70 percent of the benefits of this cut, end up at the top 1 percent. That means there's very little for anybody else, and that means that unless you're going to load this all on the deficit, you're going to have to cut the heck out of spending, spending that supports moderate and low-income families.

KELLY: Well, Peter Morici, jump in here. Is this going to add up to a whopper of a tax cut for the richest Americans?

MORICI: No, I don't think so. They're going to increase the standard deduction. They're going to simplify the tax system. They basically have earmarked $150 billion a year which is going to increase the deficit. Now, when Mr. Obama was in office, Mr. Bernstein was very happy to do that. Now that Mr. Trump is in office, he's not. The difference is they're going to give the money back to people. Will it benefit wealthy people? Yes, they're going to get some money back. Will middle-class people be benefited? Well, by doubling the standard deduction, not only will they pay less taxes but they will have a much simpler income-tax return. There's two dimensions here. A hundred-and-fifty billion is not a huge amount of money, but they're going to spread it around. And the other dimension is people don't like the system. So this simplifies it for ordinary people. If you want to make points with people, make it easier to file taxes.

KELLY: And that's one of the - that's - one of the key points here, if they are going to narrow the number of tax brackets, take it down from seven.

BERNSTEIN: Quick fact-check. The deficit under Obama went from 10 percent down to 3 percent. That's just factually incorrect. So on the - look, on the middle class, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has run the numbers. And they found that as far as what's been proposed so far, initially, the middle-class income would go up about 1 percent under this plan. The top income would go about 12 - go up about 12 or 13 percent. Now, that's before. So the middle class gets bupkis, as my grandma used to say. That's Yiddish for almost nothing.


BERNSTEIN: After the spending cuts that kick-in down the road to offset the deficit - and its 1.5 trillion over - over 10 years. So that's - that's real money even here - then you see middle-class incomes actually go down. And for families at the bottom end of the scale according to this analysis, their income goes down by 16 percent. So we already have an inequality problem in this country. We already have a lack of revenue problem in this country. This plan exacerbates both of them. It gives us more inequality and less resources to help folks in need.

KELLY: Peter, jump in on this question of the deficit. Can - can you rewrite the tax code in this way without adding to the deficit?

MORICI: You either have to cut entitlements or add to the deficit. Entitlements are now 60 percent of the budget, and they're on track to be a hundred percent of revenue within 10 years. Now, there are elements of entitlements programs which I find abhorrent. For example, we're paying men who are perfectly able-bodied at the age of 35 not to work, through Section-8 housing, bogus Social Security disabilities, access to Medicaid. These are people without children. They just sit at home in Bangor, Maine, and, you know, play video games. I don't know why a waitress, a mom, with three kids and no husband should send taxes to Washington so that, you know, Senator Collins can send them back to Maine to subsidize one of those guys. So if we're talking about...

KELLY: Am I hearing some agreement here from you two? One way or the other is likely to add to the deficit, at least in the short-term?

MORICI: You can't cut taxes and not change spending without adding to the deficit. That's arithmetic. Conservatives and liberals can at least do arithmetic together. But I'm really surprised by the volume of numbers that I've heard this morning simply because we haven't seen the plan. You can't score a plan until you've seen it. So let's not prejudge it.

BERNSTEIN: Well, actually, we've seen more than you think. So for example...

MORICI: Really?

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. So the administration has suggested that they're going to cut the corporate rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, OK? Thirty-five to 20. That's a big - that's a big cut. And 30 percent of those benefits go to the top 1 percent. Only 15 percent of those benefits go to the middle class and below. So it's a good example of precisely the type of tilted-to-the-top problem I'm talking about. And furthermore, who's doing great in this economy? It's the corporate sector.

KELLY: All right. And lots of questions still ahead about what details we're going to get on this and whether it will actually be able to come to a vote by the end of the year. That's former chief economist for Vice President Biden, Jared Bernstein, and Peter Morici of the University of Maryland. Thanks to you both for stopping by. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.