Explainer: What you should know about President Trump’s tax reform plan
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Explainer: What you should know about President Trump’s tax reform plan

Yesterday the Trump administration released its tax-reform plan, which the White House is calling the “biggest individual and business tax cut in American history.” Here is what you should know about the plan:

What are the goals of the tax reform plan:

The stated goals are to:

• Grow the economy and create millions of jobs
• Simplify our burdensome tax code
• Provide tax relief to American families—especially middle-income families
• Lower the business tax rate from one of the highest in the world to one of the lowest

What are the objective for individual taxpayer reform?

The plan promises:

• Tax relief for American families, especially middle-income families:
• Reducing the 7 tax brackets to 3 tax brackets of 10%, 25% and 35%
• Doubling the standard deduction
• Providing tax relief for families with child and dependent care expenses
• Eliminate targeted tax breaks that mainly benefit the wealthiest taxpayers
• Protect the home ownership and charitable gift tax deductions
• Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax
• Repeal the death tax
• Repeal the 3.8% Obamacare tax that hits small businesses and investment income

How does the plan affect individual taxpayers?

The effect on individual taxpayers would vary widely, depending on numerous factors.

For example, the plan promises to reduce the tax brackets to 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent, but doesn’t say who would fall into those categories. When asked about it at the roll-out briefing, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn called such information a “micro-detail.”

The standard deduction would double from $6,300 to $12,600 for single individuals and from $12,600 to $24,000 for married couples. The effect of this increase is unclear since it will be offset by a reduction in other tax deductions (deductions for home ownership, charitable giving, and retirement savings would remain while all other tax benefits would be eliminated). For example, if you live in a city or state with a high local or state tax you’d no longer be able to deduct those taxes from your federal tax bill. But a married couple earning $24,000 would benefit the most since they would no longer pay not tax at all.

While some people will benefit from the new standard deduction, other middle class taxpayers will end up paying more. As Forbes contributor Tony Nitti explains:

[T]he plan would increase the standard deduction from $12,600 to $24,000 ($12,000 if single), and eliminate personal exemptions.

So if you’re scoring at home, a family of five that currently claims the standard deduction will actually lose deductions under the Trump plan. Under current law, they would be entitled to a $12,600 standard deduction and $20,250 of personal exemptions, for a total tax benefit of $32,850. Under this latest proposal, that would be replaced with a $24,000 standard deduction and no personal exemptions. That’s going to be a tough sell.

Families are promised “tax relief to help them with child and dependent care expenses.” But no details have been released on that aspect of the proposal.

The plan would also eliminate the alternative minimum tax (AMT), which affects high-income individuals and couples, and the estate tax, which affects only about 5,000 tax returns but generates $19.7 billion in taxes. Additionally, the plan would also repeal the 3.8 percent Obamacare tax on dividends and capital gains.

What are the objective for business tax reform?

The reform plan for businesses contains four elements:

• 15 percent business tax rate
• Territorial tax system to level the playing field for American companies
• One-time tax on trillions of dollars held overseas
• Eliminate tax breaks for special interests

How does the plan affect individual businesses?

The plan would reduce the federal tax on all business income from 35 percent to 15 percent. This would affect not only corporations (C corporations) but also small businesses that are structured as partnerships or S Corporations.

The plan also includes a one-time tax on overseas profits. This is estimated to bring in an additional one-time total of $250 billion, which the administration wants to use for its infrastructure spending.

The other items are still too vague to know how they would affect businesses.

Why are so few details listed in the plan?

The “plan” is more of an outline with the details to be filled in at a later date. As the plan notes in the “process” section:

Throughout the month of May, the Trump Administration will hold listening sessions with stakeholders to receive their input and will continue working with the House and Senate to develop the details of a plan that provides massive tax relief, creates jobs, and makes America more competitive—and can pass both chambers.”

How would this plan affect the deficit?

Because this plan includes only tax cuts and no offsets in spending, the effect would be an estimated increase in the deficit of between $2-7 trillion over the next decade.

How does this plan differ from the proposal outlined by President Trump during the campaign?

The new plan includes five items that Trump promised on the campaign trail: reducing the tax brackets, increasing the standard deduction, reducing business tax to 15 percent, and eliminating the AMT and estate tax.

However, Trump’s campaign plan promised to be “revenue neutral” (i.e., would not increase the deficit), a claim which few economists outside of the White House believes is possible.

What are the chances that this plan is fully implemented?

Near zero. Many individual taxpayers will balk at the removal of their itemized deductions, and Republicans in Congress will not want to support a plan that leads to such substantial increases in the deficit.

While Congress will likely pass some elements, there isn’t much chance President Trump will be able to get all of the items on his tax reform wish list.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).