In the last week of its first one hundred days, the Trump administration—desperate to pad its meager record of accomplishments—issued a flurry of executive orders and sketchy legislative proposals. Most of the orders amounted to little more than political theater: they called for reviews and reports, created new task forces, or directed federal agencies to comply with already existing laws. There was a frantic effort to breathe new life into Trumpcare, whose prognosis remains grim. And, finally, there was the president’s long-awaited tax plan, which, after much fanfare, turned out to be a one-page outline offering even fewer specifics than the one he had released as a candidate.
Some have argued that the tax plan is yet more evidence that a man who campaigned as a populist is now governing as a plutocrat. In truth, the new plan looks almost exactly like the one he ran on. Whatever Trump may have said at his rallies or in his tweets (at one point he bragged that his plan would end up costing him “a fortune”), his campaign platform clearly promised massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. No one should be surprised that he is now trying to keep that promise. It is, after all, the one promise Republican presidents have always tried to keep.
The president’s new plan, billed as “the biggest individual and business tax cut in American history,” was hastily prepared and rapturously presented by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council—both multimillionaires who used to work at Goldman Sachs. The White House has proposed to lower income-tax rates across the board, double the standard deduction, and reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three. It would scrap the estate tax, the 3.8 percent tax on investment income that helps fund Obamacare, and the alternative minimum tax, which keeps the wealthiest Americans from using loopholes to pay little or nothing in federal income taxes. The corporate tax rate would fall from 35 to 15 percent, and companies would be offered a special one-time tax on money repatriated from overseas—at a rate yet to be determined.
Much else about the plan remains to be determined. For example, the income ranges at which the new tax rates—10, 25, and 35 percent—would apply. The plan vaguely promises to get rid of tax breaks that “mainly benefit the wealthiest taxpayers” or “special interests,” but the only tax breaks it mentions are the ones it would protect, like the one for charitable giving, which mainly benefits the wealthy.