Congressional Republicans unveiled the final draft of their plan to exacerbate economic inequality in the United States — or, as they put it, “reform the tax code” — at 5:30 p.m., Friday afternoon. Which is clearly the time that you would release your tax bill if you were certain that voters will love it, and wanted to make sure as many of them learn about its details as possible.
The House and Senate had already passed their own tax-cut bills, and Republican leaders from each chamber had spent the past week trying to iron out the differences between the two drafts — and fix some haste-induced, multibillion-dollar mistakes.
They appear poised to pass their final consensus product early next week. Bob Corker, the lone Senate Republican “no” on the earlier tax-cut bill, announced Friday that he would support the new legislation, even though it addresses absolutely none of his previous concerns. As of this writing, senators Jeff Flake and Susan Collins still haven’t committed to voting for the new bill. Technically, if they were to oppose it — and John McCain were sidelined by health problems — the legislation could run into trouble next week. But those are huge ifs, and all signs suggest that Christmas is going to come early for the GOP donor class.
Here’s a quick rundown of how the Trump Tax Cuts 3.0 bill will differ from the party’s earlier versions.
A 21 percent corporate rate.
The previous bills would have slashed the top corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. The final legislation bumps that up to 21, so as to fund …
Yet another tax break for millionaires.
The House bill kept the top marginal rate on individual income (for people who actually work for their money) at 39.6 percent. The Senate version lowered it to 38.5 percent. But in conference, Republicans concluded that their previous efforts had not redistributed quite enough wealth to the richest people in American society — and brought the top rate down to 37.
Here’s a full look at the new tax rates:
Note: All of the bill’s tax cuts for individuals expire in 2024.
A slightly more refundable child tax credit.
Marco Rubio injected some last-minute intrigue into the conference committee’s proceedings Thursday when he announced that he would oppose the final legislation if it did not make more of the child tax credit refundable, the Florida senator’s (cogent) argument being that working parents who don’t earn enough money to pay much federal income tax — but are still subject to payroll taxes — shouldn’t get a smaller child-care subsidy than millionaire couples do.
The Senate bill doubled the current child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000, while making $1,100 of that refundable. The bill would have also expanded access for the subsidy on one front — the legislation makes families that earn between $110,000 and $500,000 a year newly eligible for the tax credit — while contracting access on another: The bill would restrict eligibility to parents who have Social Security numbers, thereby cutting off a form of cash assistance to American children with undocumented guardians.
On Friday, Republican negotiators agreed to increase the refundability cap to $1,400. Thus, the final bill still gives a bigger subsidy to affluent families than to the working poor. Also, to offset the cost of raising the refundability cap, GOP lawmakers restricted the credit to children younger than 17. That’s the same as current law, but earlier versions of the bill would have looped in 17-year-olds. Together, these changes actually make the child tax credit a smaller part of the overall bill. Rubio is, nonetheless, satisfied.
A slightly smaller (but still giant) tax break for businesses that evade corporate taxes.
The single most indefensible piece of the GOP tax plan has always been its break for “pass-through” businesses. Right now, American companies that are registered as corporations must pay the corporate tax rate. This means that the owners of such companies have their business earnings taxed twice — first, at the corporate rate, and then as personal income. But closely held companies are allowed to distribute earnings to their owners without paying the corporate rate (in other words, their profits “pass through” to the owners’ individual returns). Those earnings are then taxed only once, as individual income.
The ostensible point of this policy is to make life a bit easier for small mom-and-pop businesses. But a company’s eligibility for “pass-through” status isn’t determined by size. Koch Industries and the Trump Organization are both pass-through entities. So are most hedge funds. The very existence of such giant pass-throughs is, essentially, a giant loophole in our tax code. And yet, the small business lobby — and a bevy of powerful Republican politicians who own pass-throughs (including, of course, the president) — promoted the idea that it would somehow be “unfair” to lower the corporate rate without also cutting their tax bills.
So, the House bill established a new 25 percent rate on pass-through business income, while the Senate version created a special, 23 percent deduction for the wealthy owners of such businesses. The final bill scales that deduction back down to 20 percent.
A slightly more generous state and local tax deduction.
One of the primary sources of new revenue in both the House and Senate bills comes from scaling back the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. Initially, the GOP leadership had hoped to repeal the deduction entirely — a change that would have functioned as a large tax hike on affluent, upper-middle-class homeowners in high-tax (i.e., blue) states. Unfortunately for Paul Ryan, such homeowners are the core constituency of Republican House members from New Jersey, New York, and California. And so the initial bills ended up preserving a $10,000 property-tax deduction. But in California, property taxes are far less of a burden than state income taxes. And so, Golden State Republicans got the conference committee to let taxpayers deduct $10,000 of state property — or income — taxes from their federal liability, under the terms of the final bill.
Repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate.
This was in the Senate bill but not in the House’s. Repealing the tax penalty for going without insurance will decrease participation in Obamacare — and thus decrease the amount the government spends on health insurance subsidies by roughly $300 billion over the next decade. Republicans need that money to pass giant tax cuts for the rich without violating their budget resolution (which forbids them from adding more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years).
The estate tax.
The House bill would have fully repealed the 40 percent tax on inheritances worth more than $5.49 million for individuals and $10.98 million for families. The final bill preserves the tax, but temporarily doubles those thresholds — in 2026, the status quo estate tax goes back into effect (watch out for an uptick in patricides among the one percent in 2025).
A slightly less generous mortgage interest deduction.
Currently, Americans can deduct up to $1.1 million in mortgage interest. The House would have moved that cap down to $500,000. The final bill sets it at $750,000.
A special tax break for parents who send their kids to private school.
Right now, Americans can use tax-advantaged “529” accounts to save money for college tuition expenses. Ted Cruz tried to add a provision to the Senate bill that would allow people to use money from those accounts to pay for K-through-12 tuition. It was rejected. But, somehow, the measure made it into the final bill.
The corporate alternative minimum tax.
As already mentioned, most corporations currently face a 35 percent (statutory) rate on their income. But by availing themselves of various tax credits and deductions, most companies can get their actual rates down far below that figure. To put a limit on just how far, the alternative minimum tax (AMT) prevents companies from paying any less than 20 percent on their profits (or, more precisely, on the profits that they fail to hide overseas). The GOP had originally intended to abolish the corporate AMT. But Mitch McConnell made a series of expensive, last-minute changes to the Senate bill and found himself in desperate need of offsetting revenue. So, he decided to put the AMT back into that legislation — but forgot to lower the AMT after doing so.
This was a big problem: If the standard rate is 20 percent — and the alternative minimum rate is 20 percent — then virtually all corporate tax deductions are rendered completely worthless. GOP donors flipped out.
The final bill fixes this issue by scrapping the corporate AMT entirely. How it makes up the lost revenue from this is not immediately clear.
A provision that would have made the Koch Brothers’ anonymous donations to “nonprofit” political advocacy organizations tax deductible.
The House bill would have repealed the Johnson Amendment — a law that prohibits nonprofit groups with tax-exempt status (like churches and charities) from directly participating in partisan politics. This would have enabled Evangelical megachurches to donate to political candidates, while also empowering billionaire donors to start using nonprofit public advocacy “charities” as tax-exempt super-PACs. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that the provision violated the rules of budget reconciliation.
The part designed to raise the bankruptcy rate for disabled people with expensive medical conditions.
The House bill repealed the medical-expense deduction, a tax break used by a small number of extremely sick people. The final bill retains it.
The stuff that would have made higher education (even more) unaffordable for ordinary Americans.
The tax on graduate student waivers and the repeal of the student-loan interest deduction are both gone.