Tax bill is a Christmas tree decorated with debt

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There is a zero percent chance that the tax bill Republican leaders have promised to vote on and pass next week will generate the economic growth projected by the White House. Rather, the bill is guaranteed to increase deficits and mortgage future generations with crushing debt, making it that much harder for America to be great again any time soon.

On Monday, President Trump’s Treasury Department provided delusional revenue estimates for Senate Republicans’ version of the tax bill (no Senate Democrat voted for the bill). Trump’s Treasury claimed that the $1.5 trillion tax cut proposed by the Senate would stimulate economic growth sufficiently to raise revenues by $1.8 trillion over 10 years, more than paying for the cuts.

{mosads}The Trump Treasury’s one-page summary on the economic effects of the Senate bill is bereft of economic analysis. Nor does it score the tax bill in any meaningful or comprehensible way.


In place of analysis, it offers unsubstantiated estimates of real GDP growth alongside the Trump administration’s longtime wish list of legislative and regulatory changes that Congress has not enacted, drafted or even considered but when mashed together with the administration’s other feigned assumptions, miraculously produce monopoly money for the Trump Treasury. 

Former chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, observed of the Treasury one-pager, “It looks to me like it’s a restatement of their budget.” At the same time, David Brockway, staff director of the Joint Committee on Taxation during the Reagan administration, concluded, “It’s just a political statement,” after revealing, “I don’t believe in magic.”

In fact, reports have surfaced that the Treasury Department has failed to score any of the Republican tax bills barreling through Congress due to political pressure from the White House. Such Machiavellianism might explain why the one-page summary of the Senate tax bill is divorced from facts or reality. Recently, congressional Democrats convinced the Treasury’s inspector general to investigate the extent of this alleged political meddling

Meanwhile, the Trump Treasury’s economic “analysis” makes Washingtonian “fuzzy math” look respectable. Every other estimating body that has examined the bill — public or private, left or right — has reached vastly different conclusions. All of them have the bill raising rather than lowering the federal deficit — by a lot.

While the Trump Treasury says the Senate bill would boost economic growth enough to increase federal revenues by $300 billion over 10 years, the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congressional Budget Office, Tax Policy Center, Wharton School of Business and Tax Foundation all estimate that the bill would reduce federal revenues over the same period (even after accounting for the bill’s “dynamic” effects on economic growth) by, respectively, $1 trillion, $1.4 trillion, $1.5 trillion, $1 trillion and $516 billion. 

Although terrifying, those figures underestimate foregone tax revenue under the sloppily drafted Republican tax plans. According to recent analyses conducted by tax experts, none of the revenue estimates conducted so far sufficiently account for predictable efforts to exploit loopholes contained in Republican-drafted tax legislation. 

Some of those loopholes would gut the purported revenue-generating provisions at the heart of the Republican tax plans. Consider just a few of the most obvious examples. 

First, slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent (based on the House-Senate deal reached Wednesday) would turn corporations into tax shelters for wealthy individuals.

Indeed, the proposal could set off an incorporating frenzy as taxpayers seek to turn labor income (currently taxed as high as 39.6 percent, and 37 percent under the House-Senate deal) into corporate profits (taxed at 21 percent). The tax planning strategy could be accomplished as easily as making a “check-the-box” election on IRS Form 8832. 

Cutting the corporate rate to 21 percent would further erode Republican deceptions of “tax revenue from tax cuts” in more expensive ways. One of the largest revenue raisers in every Republican tax plan (including the House-Senate deal) involves limiting individual taxpayers’ ability to deduct state and local taxes.

But corporations can fully deduct such taxes, both now and under Republican plans. Thus, any proposed limitations on individual taxpayers’ ability to deduct state and local taxes could be avoided through incorporation.

Second, and relatedly, state and local taxing jurisdictions could further undermine Republican plans to generate revenue through limitations on the deduction for state and local taxes. Specifically, states and localities could restructure their tax systems to preserve benefits of the existing deduction for resident taxpayers.

One such example involves the charitable contribution deduction, which none of the Republican tax plans disturb. In response to restricting taxpayers’ ability to deduct state and local taxes, state and local governments could facilitate charitable contributions to state and local taxing jurisdictions, contributions to which are currently deductible under the Internal Revenue Code.

In turn, the state and local taxing jurisdictions could credit those charitable contributions against resident taxpayers’ state and local income taxes.

Third, all Republican plans tax “pass-through” business income at lower rates than ordinary wage and salary income. The recently agreed upon House-Senate deal would provide a 20-percent deduction for pass-through business income and extend that break to trusts as well as individuals.

This special dispensation for business income opens up significant tax avoidance opportunities for certain groups of upper-income taxpayers to reap huge tax savings simply by becoming owners of a pass-through entity rather than remaining employees of businesses.

A conspicuous example involves non-partner lawyers in law firms. Currently, these lawyers are employees and not owners of the law firm partnership. But under Republican tax plans, they could organize as owners of a separate partnership and get paid by the law firm partnership while providing the same services they have always provided.

So organized, these owner-taxpayers would reap huge tax savings. No wonder law professor Dan Shaviro has called Republicans’ special treatment for pass-through entities the “single worst proposal ever prominently made in the history of the U.S. federal income tax.” 

I usually hate year-end predictions. For starters, they rarely come true. But here’s a prophecy you can count on: The tax bill that Republicans are recklessly racing to pass before the holiday recess will never pay for itself and will explode deficits deep into the future. Bah! Humbug! 

Dennis J. Ventry, Jr. is a professor at University of California Davis School of Law specializing in taxation and professional ethics. He is chair of the IRS Advisory Council.

Tags Corporate tax Donald Trump Economic policy of Donald Trump economy Income tax Tax Tax avoidance Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Taxation in the United States

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