Robert Samuelson: Why Trump’s Tax Reform Won’t Work

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Aug 28 2017

It’s hard to imagine that tax reform is No. 1 on the Republicans’ to-do list when they still don’t have a 2018 budget. Worse, they still haven’t agreed to raise the debt ceiling, as the federal government continues to draw down what was $350 billion in cash reserves in January to $50.6 billion as of last Thursday, according to The Washington Post.

Maybe that’s why the Post’s economics columnist, Robert J. Samuelson, was inspired to challenge the GOP’s idea that cutting taxes is “tax reform,” which implies an improvement over the old system.

Samuelson is clearly disturbed about Trump’s tax plan, which primarily benefits the rich at the expense of the poor and adds an additional $3.5 trillion in deficits over a decade, according to the Tax Policy Center. It’s not clear how that’s an improvement.

Samuelson says, “If tax cuts were initially financed by more deficit spending, the costs of today’s lower taxes would be transferred to future generations.” That now includes the largest generation in America — the Millennials — as Baby Boomers die off.

The key argument against tax cuts, Samuelson says, is that contrary to Republican claims, they don’t stimulate significantly faster growth. “Tax cuts may cushion a recession and improve the business climate, but they don’t automatically raise long-term growth. A 2014 study by the Congressional Research Service put it this way: ‘A review of statistical evidence suggests that both labor supply and savings and investment are relatively insensitive to tax rates.’”

For Samuelson, the facts point in a different direction: “The truth is that we need higher, not lower, taxes. … We are undertaxed. Government spending, led by the cost of retirees, regularly exceeds our tax intake.”

But will Republicans raise taxes? That’s not a likely outcome given the current budget debate, which would need a dose of honesty that is sorely missing. 

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