The rich and powerful keep pushing for more. And the odds are increasingly good that they will get what they want through the federal budget process now underway. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains:
Congressional Republicans this fall are poised to launch step one of a likely two-step tax and budget agenda: enacting costly tax cuts now that are heavily skewed toward wealthy households and profitable corporations, then paying for them later through program cuts mostly affecting low- and middle-income families.
The potential gains for those at the top from this first step are enormous. For example, the Republican plan currently calls for ending the estate tax, slashing the top tax rate on pass-through income from partnerships and limited liability companies from 39.6 percent to 25 percent, lowering the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent down to 20 percent, and repealing the corporate alternative minimum tax. Republicans are also considering a tax holiday on repatriated multinational corporate profits.
The Tax Policy Center estimates that the Senate tax plan would lower personal income taxes by an average of $722,510 for the top 0.1 percent of income earners compared with just $60 for those in the lowest quintile; as much as two-thirds of personal income tax cuts would go to the top 1 percent. Corporate America, for its part, would be reward with a $2.6 trillion cut in business taxes over the next decade.
Naturally, President Trump and his family are well positioned to gain from these changes. Democracy Now reports that the Center for American Progress Action Fund estimates that “President Trump’s family and Trump’s Cabinet members would, combined, reap a $3.5 billion windfall from the proposed repeal of the estate tax alone.” And capping the pass-through income tax rate “would give Trump’s son-in-law, his senior adviser, Jared Kushner, an annual tax cut of up to $17 million.” The Center for American Progress estimates that Trump, based on his 2016 financial disclosures, would enjoy a $23 million tax cut.
As for the second step in two-step agenda, it would work as follows: the Senate’s budget resolution provides a very general outline of federal spending and revenues over the next decade. It calls for an allowed increase in the budget deficit of $1.5 trillion as well as the achievement of a balanced budget within a decade. House leaders are hopeful that the House will approve the Senate budget resolution with few if any changes, thereby speeding the path for the House and Senate to quickly agree on the specific tax changes that will drive the budget deficit and then deliver the completed budget to President Trump for his signature before the end of the year.
However, all independent analysts agree that the Republican tax plan will push the deficit far beyond its stated limit of $1.5 trillion. The table below, based on estimates by the Tax Policy Center, is representative.
It shows that business tax cuts are likely to lead to $2.6 trillion in lost revenue, producing an overall estimate of a $2.4 trillion deficit increase. What we can expect then, is the return of the “deficit hawks.” If Republicans succeed in passing their desired tax cuts, and they produce the expected ever growing budget deficits, we can count on these legislators to step forward to sound the alarm and call for massive cuts in social spending, targeting key social programs, especially Medicare and Medicaid, thereby completing the second step.
Not surprisingly, the Republican leadership denies the danger of growing deficits. It presents its tax plan as a pro-growth plan, one that will generate so much growth that the increased revenue will more than compensate for the tax cuts. It’s the same old, same old: once we get government off our backs and unleash our private sector, investment will soar, job creation will speed ahead, and incomes will rise for everyone. The history of the failure of past efforts along these lines is never mentioned.
Of course, it is possible that political differences between the House and Senate will throw a monkey wrench in the budget process, forcing Republicans to accept something much more modest. But there are powerful political forces pushing for these tax changes and, at least at present, it appears likely that they will be approved.
One of the most important takeaways from what is happening is that those with wealth and power remain committed to get all they can regardless of the social consequences for the great majority. In other words, they won’t stop on their own. If we want meaningful improvements in working and living conditions we will have to do more to help build a popular movement, with strong organizational roots, capable of articulating and fighting for its own vision of the future.