Five unanswered questions about Trump's tax plan

Five unanswered questions about Trump's tax plan
© Greg Nash

The White House on Wednesday released a tax plan that was notable in its brevity.

The proposal came in the form of a one-page document with bullet points outlining the White House’s big priorities.

While the plan had a number of similarities to President Trump's campaign tax plan, it was less detailed than that proposal. It’s unclear how much of the campaign plan will be kept as the White House begins its tax reform push. 


Here are five of the biggest unanswered questions in Trump's tax plan.

What will the income thresholds be for the tax brackets?

Trump’s tax plan proposes three tax rates for individuals: 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent.

But the plan does not specify what levels of income would be subject to each rate. 

The lack of detail on the thresholds for the tax rates is a key reason why think tanks such as the Tax Foundation and the Tax Policy Center will find it difficult to provide revenue estimates of Trump’s one-page plan.

“In order to know how much revenue something will raise, you need to know what it’s taxing,” said Scott Greenberg, an analyst with the Tax Foundation.

What will the child care tax break look like?


Trump’s plan calls for “tax relief for families with child and dependent care expenses,” something he supported while running for president.

Providing a tax break for child care expenses has been a top issue for his daughter, Ivanka Trump, who now works in the White House as a special assistant to the president.

Trump released a child care plan during his campaign that featured a tax deduction capped at the average cost of care in the state where the taxpayer lived. But critics argued it would provide a bigger benefit for higher earners than lower earners. The plan also lacked other important details.

It’s unclear whether the White House intends to take the same approach to a child care tax break now — especially since it would appear to be at odds with their push to eliminate all individual deductions except those for mortgage interest and charitable giving.

What happens with provisions relating to business investment? 

Trump’s tax plan was silent on some of the key business provisions in the House Republicans’ tax blueprint.

The House GOP plan proposes allowing businesses to be able to immediately deduct the full costs of their capital investments — a concept known as “full expensing.” It also proposes eliminating businesses’ ability to deduct their net interest costs.

Full expensing is viewed by some analysts as one of the aspects of the House GOP plan that would produce the most economic growth. 

House Republicans have proposed eliminating interest deductibility because having both full expensing and interest deductibility would lead to a tax subsidy for debt-financed investments. Additionally, they want to equalize the tax treatment of debt and equity, and eliminating interest deductibility would raise revenue to help pay for cuts to business tax rates.

Some businesses have pushed back against the House GOP proposal, arguing that debt financing is a tool that helps them grow their companies and handle their daily operations. 

The tax plan that Trump’s campaign released in September gives manufacturers the option of either full expensing or interest deductibility. 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Wall Street Journal that the administration supports some type of expensing but is also aware that some industries would be affected by eliminating interest deductibility.

What tax breaks will be scrapped? 

The plan calls for the elimination of tax breaks that benefit special interests and the wealthy, but didn't go into much detail about which specific provisions would be repealed.

The House Republicans’ blueprint calls for doing away with tax preferences for businesses with the exception of the research and development tax credit. Trump’s campaign plan also floated keeping the credit, but his new plan didn’t take an explicit stance.

Another tax preference that the administration didn’t take a position on was the tax exemption for municipal bonds, which state and local governments sell to finance infrastructure projects.

Trump told a group of mayors in December that he supports the municipal bond exemption. But another tax preference that mayors and governors value, the state and local tax deduction, would be repealed under Trump’s plan. 

How will the White House prevent tax avoidance?

Trump’s plan proposes a 15-percent tax rate for both corporations and small businesses organized as “pass-throughs” whose income is currently taxed through the individual code. 

Mnuchin said that the administration “will make sure that there are rules in place so that wealthy people can’t create pass-throughs and use that as a mechanism to avoid paying the tax rate that they should be on the personal side.” However, he did not specify what those rules would be.

Trump’s plan also proposes implementing a “territorial” system that only taxes the U.S. earnings of American companies. But the plan doesn’t specify how it would prevent businesses from using tools to recharacterize U.S.-sourced income as foreign-sourced income for tax purposes. 


The House GOP plan aims to stop companies from moving their headquarters, jobs and intellectual property overseas by pairing territoriality with a “border adjustment” provision to tax imports and exempt exports. Under the border-adjustment proposal, goods consumed in the U.S. would be subject to U.S. taxes no matter where they are made. 

But the border adjustment tax has faced opposition retailers and a number of lawmakers, who fear that it would lead to higher prices on goods for consumers.

Trump’s plan does not include the border-adjustment provision. Mnuchin said that the administration doesn’t “think it works in its current form" but continues to discuss revisions to it with lawmakers. Leaders of the tax-reform effort in the House say they’re working on modifications to the proposal.