Tax Reform Is Not For The Poor

Not even the middle class is a clear winner in the Republican plan.

WASHINGTON ― Republicans say their tax reform plan benefits the middle and working classes, but the most direct beneficiaries are corporations and wealthy individuals.

Many of the “loopholes” slated for elimination under the bill introduced on Thursday benefit middle-income taxpayers. The legislation contains nothing that specifically benefits the poor, who already pay no federal income tax.

When reporters asked on Thursday how many households would face a higher tax burden, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, avoided saying that nobody in the middle class would face a tax increase under the plan, dwelling instead on the “most modest earners.”

“We have hundreds of millions of tax filers in America,” Brady said. “Would some see a tax increase there among our most modest earners? And that answer is zero.” 

quick analysis of the legislation by the conservative Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget on Thursday indicated that two-thirds of the bill’s $1.5 trillion cost would go to business tax cuts, and another $200 billion or so would go to extremely wealthy Americans who would no longer have to pay a tax on their estates after death. (The levy, which would gradually be phased out, currently applies only to individual estates worth more than $5.49 million.)

That leaves $300 billion in cuts for individual income tax filers without business income, but there are a lot of tradeoffs within the legislation that make it tricky to evaluate. The bill offsets the revenue loss from tax cuts by eliminating things like the deduction for state and local income taxes and the personal exemption, which currently reduces a filer’s taxable income by $4,050 for each household member.

The biggest new benefit in the plan is an expanded “standard deduction,” which has been a top talking point for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and President Donald Trump. The legislation pushes the standard deduction for a married couple from $12,700 to $24,000, which would make up for the lost itemized deductions and personal exemptions for most households, but not necessarily all of them ― particularly those with multiple children.

The bill also expands the child tax credit, which Republicans have suggested would protect larger households that don’t benefit from the expansion of the standard deduction. The legislation increases the value of the credit from $1,000 to $1,600 per child and increases the income threshold at which a household loses eligibility for the credit from $110,000 to $230,000. On top of that, the bill gives each parent an additional $300 ― but only temporarily, as the provision expires after five years. 

Chye-Ching Huang of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities criticized that policy, as well as the requirement that people claiming the child tax credit or a credit for college expenses provide a work-eligible Social Security number to receive a refund if the credit pushes their taxable income beneath zero.

“There are some very clear cases where they are hurting low-income working families,” Huang said, referring to immigrants in particular.

Though the earned income tax credit has gotten a boost in past tax reform legislation, Republicans haven’t proposed any big changes to the only part of the tax code that exclusively benefits low-income workers. Ryan has previously supported expanding it. But Republicans didn’t include language directing the IRS to do quasi-audits of filers who claim the benefit, something Brady had told HuffPost he was considering last month.

Arthur Delaney hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast: