Moneybox

The Actual Tax Bill Didn’t Do Much for the Middle Class So Trump Wants Congress to Vote On a Make-Believe One

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 22: U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the crowd during a rally in support of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on October 22, 2018 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. Cruz, the incumbent, is seeking Senate re-election in a high-profile race against Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)
Trump spouting off.
Loren Elliott/Getty Images

Donald Trump has spent the last few days telling anyone who will listen that Republicans are about to introduce a brand new tax cut for middle class families. On Saturday, he informed reporters in Nevada that his administration “was looking at putting in a very major tax cut for middle-income people” some time prior to November, adding that House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady had worked on the plan. Monday, before appearing at a rally for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump said Congress would introduce a “resolution” calling for a 10 percent tax cut next week, because there wasn’t time to pass a formal bill, but that the party would get to it “after the election.”

Then at the rally itself, Trump repeated all this to the crowd.

“We are going to be putting in a 10 percent tax cut for middle income families,” Trump said. “It’s going to be put in next week. Ten percent tax cut. Kevin Brady is working on it. We have been working on it for a few months. That is in addition to the big tax cuts you have already gotten.”

As far as anybody can tell, Trump appears to have made all of this up from scratch. White House staffers are baffled. There is no tax plan. They don’t even seem to know where Trump got the idea. Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, lamely reporters on Wednesday that the 10 percent cut was “doable,” but the White House was “just working through it.” It’s unclear what that means. Congress isn’t even in session to vote, because members are all at home frantically campaigning before the midterms. Ryan and Brady initially stayed mum. Trump seems to either be trying to will this fantasy into being through sheer repetition, or anticipating that he can repeatedly claim something that will not happen is happening and get away with it. And now, he is roping Capitol Hill into the lie. Brady put out a statement saying his committee would “continue to work” with the White House to develop a plan. And the Washington Post reports that the White House may ask congressional Republicans to take a symbolic vote on Trump’s idea.

Advisers have discussed the idea of having Congress vote on a symbolic “resolution” for a future 10 percent tax cut for the middle class, people familiar with discussions said, part of their scramble to meet Trump’s demand for rapid action to blunt Democrats’ economic messaging ahead of the midterm elections.

The resolution would not be binding but would attempt to send a signal to the public that Republicans are focused on helping middle-class families.

To be honest, I kind of hope this happens, because it is hard to think of a more fitting summary of Republican economic policy today. Corporations and the wealthy get a real tax cut. Normal families get a symbolic one. We’ll basically get to see the entire GOP caucus send thoughts and prayers to the middle class. (Some conservative tax folks will protest here that many middle-income families did benefit from the tax bill, but the media simply chose to focus on the cuts for businesses and high earners. But even if you only look at changes that were made to the tax-code’s individual side, about 40 percent of the cuts went to families in the top 5 percent of the income distribution).

The amazing thing about all of this is that even Trump, in his impenetrable bubble of Fox News and Twitter noise, seems to understand that voters aren’t that jazzed at the actual cut Republicans passed, since he’s now pump faking as if the White House is going to take another shot.

But anyway, I want to set down a prediction: If Congress does take this vote, Trump will claim they actually passed a tax cut. Because we are that far through the looking glass.