President Donald Trump and Republicans promised a tax bill by Christmas, and on that front they have delivered.
On Friday, Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law, a $1.5 trillion proposal that gives corporations a massive permanent tax break, temporarily cuts rates for individuals, and repeals the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate — a move that is estimated to leave 13 million fewer insured in the next 10 years.
Congress passed the bill Wednesday.
Republicans haven’t let the fact that the bill is full of broken promises stand in the way of notching a legislative win by the year’s end. The final bill lowers the corporate rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, gives pass-through businesses like the Trump Organization a 20 percent tax deduction, increases the standard deduction, expands the child tax credit, and temporarily lowers individual rates across the board.
It’s a bill that by almost every official analysis overwhelmingly benefits America’s highest earners, and doesn’t do much to simplify the tax code. But as Republicans said, in the first year almost all Americans will see at least a marginal decline in their taxes.
Here are some of the major winners and losers from this GOP tax plan.
Winner: corporate America
A massive corporate tax cut has been the centerpiece of the Republican tax plan from the beginning. This bill permanently cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent to bring it closer to that of countries like Canada, which has a 15 percent corporate tax rate, or Ireland, which has a 12.5 percent rate.
Republicans also repealed the 20 percent corporate alternative minimum tax, which was set up in the current tax code to ensure that corporations paid at least some taxes.
The bill also changes tax provisions for American companies abroad: Corporations will no longer have to pay corporate taxes on money they claim to have earned abroad — a move that could encourage companies to keep income in foreign tax havens. Corporate income brought back to the United States will be taxed between 8 and 15.5 percent, instead of the current 35 percent.
The idea is that the lower tax rate will push corporations to invest more in the United State, raise wages, increase jobs, and unleash unprecedented economic growth.
“It’s in all of our best interest to have these tax cuts for corporations so that they will have more money to invest in their business and pay their workers,” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) said.
By most analyses, this is largely a false promise. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, pulling together assessments from the Congressional Budget Office, the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Tax Policy Center, the Treasury’s Office of Tax Analysis, and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, found that workers would only receive a quarter or less of the benefits from tax cuts — and among those workers, it’s likely the higher earners that would benefit.
While it’s true that the United States’ corporate tax rate is exceptionally high on paper, the actual rate that corporations currently pay is much lower than 35 percent.
“Our corporate tax code is riddled with loopholes, and what corporations pay is far, far lower — somewhere between 13 and 21 percent,” Hunter Blair, a tax and budget analyst at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, told Vox. The Congressional Budget Office puts the United States’ current effective corporate tax rate at 18.6 percent, lower than that of some countries in Europe and Asia.
While the Republican bill closed some of these smaller loopholes, many of the major ones remain intact, making this massive tax cut into a bonanza for corporate America.
Winner: Donald Trump
There’s no question that this is a big victory for President Donald Trump — both personally and politically.
After Republicans spent the greater part of the year pushing unsuccessfully to repeal Obamacare, tax reform was the last frontier for major legislative change in Trump’s first year in office — a reality that served as a major motivator to get the tax bill done by Christmas.
But in addition to getting a legislative win under his belt, this tax bill is also good for Trump and those in his family, personally.
Trump and his administration have continued to insist that high earners like Trump would not benefit from this tax bill. The “rich will not be gaining at all” with the tax bill, Trump said. Another time he promised that bill would cost him a “fortune.”
That’s not true.
Trump, and the ultrarich like him, would benefit in several ways. First, the tax bill cuts the top individual tax rate to 37 percent from 39.6 percent. Next, it also increases the exemption on what Republicans call the “death tax” — the 40 percent tax (after deducting donations and spousal gifts) on the wealth of deceased persons before it’s distributed to their heirs — from $11 million to $22 million for married couples.
Trump would also benefit from the tax bill’s “pass-through” provision, which Republicans say is aimed at helping small businesses, but also give wealthy investors, like Trump, a major windfall.
Currently, owners of pass-through companies, like LLCs, partnerships, sole proprietorships, and S corporations — the Trump Organization, for example — are taxed as personal income. The Republican tax bill will now give pass-through businesses a 20 percent deduction, in addition to cutting the top individual tax rate.
The Trump Organization is a large pass-through; the holding company owns golf courses and hotels and pulls in about $9.5 billion in annual revenue. But because it is exempt from the corporate income tax, and its profits are instead taxed upon distribution to shareholders, this tax break for pass-through income is a huge win for the Trump family — and the many other businesspeople who structure their companies like this.
As Vox’s Dylan Matthews explained, there are some provisions in the proposal meant to prevent rich individuals from using this tax break as a way to shelter income, but they only limit the benefit in many cases. In fact, the final tax bill extends the pass-through deduction even to pass-throughs that aren’t paying wages or creating jobs — in other words, wealthy real estate investors like Trump or Jared Kushner benefit from the new law.
Winner: individual taxpayers — for the short term
Republicans have promised a “giant” tax cut for Christmas — across the board.
In the short term, those will come to fruition. The Republican tax plan lowers the individual tax rates and increases the standard deduction.
In 2017, for a married couple the brackets are:
- 10% (taxable income up to $18,650)
- 15% ($18,650 to $75,900)
- 25% ($75,900 to $153,100)
- 28% ($153,100 to $233,350)
- 33% ($233,350 to $416,700)
- 35% ($416,700 to $470,700)
- 39.6% (taxable income over $470,700)
Under the new plan they’d be:
- 10% (taxable income up to $19,050)
- 12% ($19,050 to $77,400)
- 22% ($77,400 to $165,000)
- 24% ($165,000 to $315,000)
- 32% ($315,000 to $400,000)
- 35% ($400,000 to $600,000)
- 37% (taxable income over $600,000)
Most middle-class taxpayers would land in the 12 percent bracket; upper-middle-class households go from the 25 percent bracket to 22 percent, or from 33 percent to 24 percent, or from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. Families will also be able to benefit from a slightly expanded child tax credit.
According to an analysis from the Tax Policy Center, the bill would reduce taxes for Americans in all income groups in 2018 — increasing after-tax income by an average of 2.2 percent.
But as time goes on, all this changes.
Loser: individual taxpayers — in the long term
The tax cut for individuals will slowly decrease over time — and end altogether in 2025.
As Matthews explains, the thresholds for individual tax brackets are adjusted according to chained CPI, a lower measure of inflation than standard CPI, which is used currently. This will increase tax revenue over time by pushing people into higher tax brackets.
Then in 2025, the individual tax relief in the Republican tax bill expires altogether. This is due to a Senate budget rule that restricts the cost of the tax bill to $1.5 trillion. Republicans decided to sunset nearly all the individual tax cuts in order to make the corporate tax cuts permanent.
The result will be a tax increase in 2027 for more than half of all Americans — 53 percent, according to an analysis from the Tax Policy Center.
Loser: fiscal conservatism
The corporate tax cut, along with the bill’s other tax cuts, is expensive. The tax bill costs $1.46 trillion over 10 years — or roughly $1 trillion when adjusted for economic growth. Either way, it’s a substantial impact on the deficit.
You’d expect conservatives who have spent their careers decrying the dangers of the national debt to shudder at such an estimate. But not so much.
Fiscal conservatives and deficit hawks seem to have changed their tune, all in the name of massive tax cuts that would primarily benefit the wealthy.
“Sometimes you have to go into a little bit of debt to make your business stronger,” Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) said when the House was passing the budget, which gave Republicans a green light to go ahead with a partisan tax bill.
In their budget reconciliation instructions, Republicans allow for this bill to carve a $1.5 trillion hole in the deficit over the first 10 years. Due to Senate rules, the bill ultimately cannot increase the deficit any more after the 10-year mark. To meet this requirement, Republicans end almost all the individual tax cuts in 2025, and make the corporate tax cuts permanent.
But House Speaker Paul Ryan says Republicans have every “intent” to renew the individual tax cuts in 2025, to ensure taxes don’t go up for individual Americans. It’s up to whoever sits in Congress in the future.
If Congress does in fact renew the individual tax cuts, the actual impact on the deficit would be much greater than the current estimates. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that expiring the individual tax cuts in the bill hides between $570 billion and $725 billion of potential costs. In other words, the bill could actually increase the deficit by $2 trillion to $2.2 trillion.
Republicans continue to insist that their tax bill will lead to unprecedented economic growth to make up for these costs, but there’s some dubious math that goes into that expectation, including a very rosy calculation for economic growth. The Treasury Department even included legislation that hasn’t even been introduced — like an infrastructure bill — in its analysis of the tax bill’s impact on economic growth.
Loser: Blue states
Twelve Republicans voted against the final tax bill in the House. Eleven of those 12 were Republicans from New York, New Jersey, and California — high-tax blue states that are disproportionately disadvantaged by this tax bill.
The defections stem from two major changes to the tax code, meant to help offset the cost of a massive tax break for corporations.
The bill changes the mortgage interest deduction, lowering the cap for newly issued loans to $750,000 from the current $1 million threshold. Those in the real estate industry say this would reduce the incentive to buy and build homes, which could affect lenders, construction companies, and real estate firms. It also disproportionately impacts states with higher home prices, like California, New York, and New Jersey.
Americans in Democratic-leaning states, which typically have higher income and property taxes, are also adversely affected by this bill’s new $10,000 cap on the state and local income and property tax deduction.
Republicans in support of the bill say neither of these changes will impact Americans because of the increased standard deduction, as people are less likely to itemize their deductions — but it was enough to lose the votes of 11 blue-state Republicans.
Winner: Tax accountants
Trump has often invoked tax accountants when pitching the tax bill to the American public.
Promising a tax code that “simple and easy to understand” at a rally earlier this year, Trump said: “Sorry. H&R Block will not be supporting Donald Trump, I can tell you,” insinuating that the new simplified tax code would put tax accountants like H&R Block out of work. H&R Block’s stock dropped this fall, some of which was associated with the anticipation of a Republican tax reform bill.
But tax accountants can rest assured: They will still have jobs.
Republicans passed a tax bill that does very little to actually simplify the tax code. Despite early efforts from the House, which passed a version of the tax bill that condensed the current seven tax brackets to four and cut many of the deductions — like those for teachers’ supplies and high medical expenses — the final draft of the tax bill does no such thing.
As Jim Tankersley wrote for the New York Times, this tax bill “creates as many new preferences for special interests as it gets rid of”:
It will keep corporate accountants busy for years to come. And no taxpayer will ever see the postcard-size tax return that President Trump laid a kiss on in November as Republican leaders launched their tax overhaul effort.
In fact, the final talking points about the tax bill, which Republicans circulated with the legislative text released last Friday, takes credit for retaining a lot of the current tax law’s deductions.
“Provides support for graduate students by continuing to exempt the value of reduced tuition from taxes,” the talking points stated. “Continues to and expands the deduction for charitable contributions ... preserving the Adoption Tax Credit ... preserving the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.”
It’s a sudden reversal of what has been a decades-long campaign to simplify the tax code, and a promise that Americans could soon fill out their taxes on a postcard.
Loser: Obamacare marketplaces
The tax bill isn’t just a tax bill. It’s also a health care bill.
Republicans have agreed to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which taxes Americans who don’t purchase health insurance. Republicans are calling it a blow to the “heart” of Obamacare, which they failed to repeal earlier this year.
The impact of repealing the individual mandate could be serious. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that it could leave as many as 13 million fewer insured over the next 10 years, and increase premiums by an average 10 percent over the next decade.
To win over concerned moderates in the Senate on the tax bill, Republican leadership hatched a plan to simultaneously pass a bill to stabilize the Obamacare marketplaces with the tax bill — a proposal negotiated by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA).
But the CBO found passing the Alexander-Murray proposal — the centerpiece of which is funding Obamacare’s cost-sharing reduction subsidies, which Trump has threatened to pull — would not in fact mitigate the coverage losses and premium hikes triggered by repealing the individual mandate.
“If legislation were enacted that incorporated both the provisions of the Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act and a repeal of the individual mandate ... the effects on the premiums and the number of people with health insurance coverage would be similar,” Keith Hall, the CBO’s director, wrote in a letter to Murray.
It’s still an open question whether the House is on board to pass the CSR payments. On Tuesday, Speaker Ryan received pushback from Republican members over the possibility of passing an Obamacare stabilization package.
Either way, people on the Obamacare exchanges will likely lose out.