Congressional Republicans ended a fierce legislative fight by passing a bill Wednesday which promises to be the most significant rewrite of the tax code in decades.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is about to become the first major legislative accomplishment of the new administration. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days after it was passed by both congressional chambers this week.
Congressional Republicans made everyday taxpayers a central focus as they formulated their tax reform legislation. Supporters argue the bill accomplishes this by lowering rates for middle and working class households, while also spurring economic growth – but critics contest it’s a bill more geared towards helping the wealthy and large corporations.
“[That’s] $3.2 trillion, just think about that, in tax cuts for American families, including doubling the standard deduction and doubling the child tax credit,” Trump declared during a ceremony after the final votes. “The typical family of four earning $75,000 will see an income tax cut of more than $2,000.”
The tax reform bill does several key things that could impact ordinary taxpayers. It lowers rates for every middle-range income earner – but also eliminates deductions that many people use. Some deductions are increased, like the standard deduction and the child tax credit. National Taxpayers Union executive vice president Brandon Arnold notes that overall the plan will be beneficial for ordinary people.
“I think it’s a great bill,” Arnold told InsideSources. “The lower rates will kick in at the start of the year so there will be a change in their paycheck right off the bat, and then going into filing season in early 2019, when they sure up their taxes, they’re going to see a big benefit, especially in regards to the child tax credit. Beyond that, I think the economic effects will be pretty quick.”
The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan research group, found in an analysis Dec. 18 that the bill would create an additional $1 trillion in federal revenue from the economic growth it creates. The analysis also found it will increase wages by 1.5 percent and create an additional 339,000 full-time jobs. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a progressive research nonprofit, counters that there is no evidence to suggests the bill will boost wages or provide meaningful benefits to working families.
President Trump has made working-class issues a cornerstone of his presidency. He has argued that the system is rigged against ordinary Americans – pledging to fight for them in Washington D.C. His focus on those voters during the election was likely a major reason why he won. Critics argue that the bill falls far short of living up to that promise.
“The one thing he did focus on was working class people–they kind of have been left behind and ignored,” Chuck Marr, director of federal tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told InsideSources. “He created an impression that they would be the priority when he came into office. And this tax bill, they’re moving around $2 trillion. It was the perfect opportunity to help those people he thinks have been ignored, and they very much chose not to do that.”
Marr adds that the bill is skewed heavily towards helping corporations and the wealthy. Arnold counters that the bill does a lot to help ordinary taxpayers by reducing rates and increasing certain deductions. He points to the progressive research nonprofit, the Tax Policy Center (TPC), which found that only five percent of taxpayers would pay more tax in 2018.
“The projections suggest that about five percent of taxpayers are going to see higher taxes,” Arnold said. “Those are mostly people that are taking quite a bit of advantage of deductions like mortgage interest, people in high tax states, people along those lines. Of course, they’re not going to be thrilled, but that’s how tax reform works, you have to flatten out the code. You have to eliminate a lot of deductions and exemptions.”
The TPC also found in the same report that rates would increase for 53 percent of taxpayers by 2027. Marr notes that some middle-class taxpayers might see a benefit at the beginning, but that will eventually dwindle. He also points out that on an individual basis it will come down to which deductions and exemptions people use.
“For people, there are different things moving around,” Marr said. “Standard deduction increases, personal exemption goes away, child-tax credit goes up for some, certain deductions go away–so it kind of depends. The typical household, if you’re making $35,000, for a while you’ll benefit from the combination of the standard deduction going up, personal exemption goes away, and child credit goes up.”
Congressional Republicans have overcome many hurdles to get tax reform accomplished. House leadership introduced a blueprint which outlined their earlier policy goals in June 2016. They then held a year of hearings and internal discussion before drafting their first bill. The plan changed in some significant ways throughout that process, but the promise of helping the middle class and boosting economic growth remained consistent.
The House and Senate passed two different versions of the legislation in recent weeks – which meant they had to form a conference committee together. The process allowed both chambers to meet and resolve differences between their bills. The joint committee released a unified tax bill Dec. 15.
The House and Senate both passed the bill this week but not without hitting a setback in the eleventh hour. House Republicans were able to pass the bill Tuesday but were forced to hold another vote the next day to resolve issues with some provisions.
The U.S. Senate parliamentarian, who interprets rules and parliamentary procedures, determined that three provisions in the bill violated a budgetary process rule – which restricts what can be included in reconciliation legislation by prohibiting provisions that are viewed as extraneous to the budget.
Republicans have also faced backlash for reducing what are known as state and local (SALT) deductions – which allow taxpayers who itemize to deduct some of their local taxes on their federal taxes. The bill caps the deduction at $10,000 for income, sales, and property taxes. Critics argue this hurts middle-class households since so many taxpayers take the SALT deduction.
Those opposed to the bill have noted particular concern over how well it treats corporations. It will lower the top corporate tax rate to 21 percent from the current 35 percent. There has long been bipartisan support for lowering the rate, which had been significantly higher than other countries. The bill also includes a 20 percent tax deduction for pass-through businesses – which are often, but not always, small and family owned.
Supporters argue this aspect of the plan will help ordinary people by creating more jobs and boosting wages – since employers would then have more money to presumably invest back into their companies. But critics note there is no evidence it will spur the needed corporate investments.
Arnold states that his one real concern about the bill is that many individual tax cuts are set to expire December 31, 2025. The expiration was included to ensure the legislation followed budgetary rules. Republicans promised to make those cuts permanent when they are able.
“The biggest concern is certainly the fact that a lot of these tax cuts are going to sunset in a matter of years,” Arnold said. “That will require Congress to come back to the table and we don’t know what the makeup of either chamber will be or who will be in the White House.”
The bill also eliminates a critical component of Obamacare known as the individual mandate. Those opposed to that provision warn it could undermine the healthcare bill entirely – causing many to see higher premiums or even lose coverage.
Americans have become increasingly less hopeful about the tax reform plan as it was being drafted over the last year. Monmouth University released a nationwide poll Dec. 18 which found 47 percent of people disapprove of the bill while 26 percent approve of it.