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Hillary Clinton Twists the Knife in Donald Trump’s Tax Proposals

Hillary Clinton leaned into her plans to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans on Wednesday, denouncing Donald J. Trump's tax proposals as a boondoggle for billionaires.

"We're going to tax the wealthy who have made all of the income gains in the last 15 years," Mrs. Clinton told a crowd in Cleveland. "The superwealthy, corporations, Wall Street," she declared emphatically, "they're going to have to invest in education, in skills training, in infrastructure."

For months, Mrs. Clinton has attacked Mr. Trump's economic agenda in broad terms, portraying him as a follower of the "trickle down" orthodoxy of previous Republican administrations. But Mr. Trump's release of his tax plans last week in Detroit allowed her to begin to criticize them more specifically.

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Just as President Obama attacked his 2012 rival, Mitt Romney, for paying a lower effective tax rate than the vast majority of Americans, Mrs. Clinton said that Mr. Trump's plan would benefit people in his own income bracket, declaring that he "would pay a lower rate than middle-class families" if it were put into effect. Mr. Trump has recommended cutting the top marginal income tax rate to 33 percent from the current 39.6 percent, and broadening deductions for things like child care.

Hillary Clinton
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Hillary Clinton

Mr. Trump, conversely, has portrayed Mrs. Clinton as a tax-and-spend Democrat who supports policies that have caused 15 years of virtually stagnant wages. "For an economy desperate for a jump start, Clinton's plan will only act as a straitjacket," his campaign said on Wednesday.

Mrs. Clinton's spending plans, including a $250 billion investment in infrastructure and a $350 billion plan to make college more affordable, rely largely on changes to the tax code that would raise rates on the affluent and corporations.

She supports the "Buffett rule," which would require millionaires to pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes, and wants to close the carried interest loophole that lets hedge fund managers pay a lesser tax rate on much of their income. She has also proposed an "exit tax" on corporations that move jobs overseas, and wants to limit tax deductions, impose a 4 percent tax surcharge for income over $5 million, and close corporate tax loopholes to help pay for her costly domestic agenda.

After touring a job training program at John Marshall High School in Cleveland, Mrs. Clinton described how her plan would affect voters in Ohio, a critical swing state where she holds a five-point edge over Mr. Trump, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll.

Referring to a report by Moody's Analytics, she said her plan would create 376,000 jobs in Ohio, while Mr. Trump's plans would cost the state more than 123,000 jobs.

"I know that too many families right here in Ohio are feeling too much financial stress, worrying about how they're going to make ends meet," she said.

Donald Trump
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Donald Trump

Mrs. Clinton, who is sometimes mocked for the attention she pays to granular policy details, has taken particular aim at Mr. Trump's proposal to cut taxes on what are known as pass-through entities: businesses that do not pay corporate income taxes, but whose owners are taxed on individual profits.

Calling this provision "the Trump loophole," Mrs. Clinton asserted on Wednesday that it would allow Mr. Trump and business owners like him to pay less than half the current tax rate on income from their own companies.

Even some Republicans who support Mr. Trump's promise to slash the tax rate on corporate profits to 15 percent, from the current 35 percent, have criticized the pass-through provision.

"While reducing corporate income rates is generally good, the pass-through exemption is a bad policy," said Kyle E. Pomerleau, the director of federal projects at the Tax Foundation, a conservative think tank. He explained that the provision would "create a lot of behavioral incentives" for people to restructure how they earn income "in order to get a more favorable rate."

Polling suggests that Mrs. Clinton's focus on tax issues could resonate with voters, because most Americans agree with the thrust of her ideas.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton
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Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Almost two-thirds, 64 percent, of Americans said they were bothered a lot by the feeling that some corporations are not paying what is fair in federal taxes, and 61 percent said the same about some wealthy people, according to a 2015 poll from the Pew Research Center.

While the weeds of tax policy can be a difficult sell to voters, the broader issue of income inequality has motivated voters this election year.

"The tax system is the poster child for all of that," said Frank Clemente, the executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, an advocacy organization. "It's through this lens that people really see the system as corrupt and benefiting rich people."

To that end, Mrs. Clinton tried to sprinkle personal stories around her policy details. "I am proud to be the granddaughter of a factory worker and the daughter of a small-business man and standing here before you," she said, while portraying her rival as part of the top 1 percent in terms of wealth.

She said Mr. Trump's plan to eliminate the estate tax would save his family an estimated $4 billion, which, by Mrs. Clinton's calculations, would pay for publicly funded prekindergarten classes for 890,000 4-year-olds and provide a year's worth of health care for 360,000 veterans.

"Donald Trump doesn't need a tax cut," she said. She waited for the crowd to quiet down, and then Mrs. Clinton, whose tax returns show that she and former President Bill Clinton earned an adjusted gross income of $10.6 million in 2015, added, "I don't need a tax cut."