There was quite a bit of breathless coverage this week about Donald Trump “flip-flopping” on tax policy, but the closer one looks, the more it appears that there was no reversal. The presumptive Republican nominee committed to massive tax breaks for the wealthy, and some clumsy phrasing notwithstanding, his platform hasn’t changed.
There was a legitimate question, however, about whether Trump’s tax plan might get “tweaked” for the general election. Politico reported on Wednesday that the Republican candidate’s campaign “enlisted influential conservative economists to revise his tax package and make it more politically palatable by slashing the $10 trillion sticker price.” The article added that Trump’s team, just last month, reached out to CNBC’s Larry Kudlow and the Heritage Foundation’s Stephen Moore “to spearhead an effort to update the package,” and the duo has already done a fair amount of work on a new blueprint.
Late yesterday, however, the story took an unexpected turn. The New York Times reported:
After days of confusion over Donald J. Trump’s hints that he would change his tax plan to reduce its budget-busting cost and make it less generous to the rich, his spokeswoman on Thursday sought to clear things up: He plans no changes, Hope Hicks said, and advisers who say otherwise do not speak for him.One of those advisers, Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation, had his own response: “I’m a little bummed out if his spokeswoman says they’re not going to make any changes to the plan.”
Moore’s emotional state notwithstanding, this is not a positive development. Even if we put aside the confusion surrounding the competing news accounts, the more pressing matter is the fact that Trump’s tax plan actually needs revising because it’s a ridiculous plan.
Back in March, Vox’s Ezra Klein had a good summary of the Republican candidate’s proposal and “its sheer irresponsibility.”
The Tax Policy Center found that Trump’s tax cuts would cost about $9.5 trillion – and that’s before accounting for interest on all that new debt. The size of that number boggles the mind. Trump’s plan would, for instance, more than double the national debt. It would wipe out 45 percent of projected income tax revenue over the next decade. […]But Trump’s tax plan isn’t just incredibly expensive; it’s also incredibly regressive. The Tax Policy Center found that the average low-income taxpayer would get $128 from Trump’s plan, but the average top 1-percenter would get $275,257, and the average 0.1-percenter will get $1.3 million. It’s a huge tax cut for Trump and his wealthy friends.
It’s the kind of blueprint that makes the failed Bush/Cheney policy appear almost reasonable by comparison. A Trump White House would demand roughly $10 trillion in tax cuts that would disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Americans – folks like Donald Trump – who really don’t need another windfall from the government.
Heritage’s Stephen Moore went so far as to tell the Times, “One concern that I’ve had as a Trump supporter is that if the number is $10 trillion for the lost revenue, that’s going to be a hard thing to make up with spending cuts.”
That’s mild criticism, to be sure, but when a leading far-right economist for the Heritage Foundation effectively says about a Republican plan, “Those tax cuts seem a little excessive,” we’re breaking new ground in recklessness.
And yet, as of late yesterday, Team Trump insists the current plan is the only plan – and it’s not going to change. Amazing.