President Trump is once again claiming he wants to tax high-earning Americans more, in order to pay for tax cuts for businesses and the middle class. For some reason, people keep believing him — even though, in more than two years of making similar statements, Trump has never put forth a tax plan that would be anything but a huge windfall for the very rich.
Trump's latest venue for his soak-the-rich rhetoric was an interview with the Wall Street Journal, in which he declared "the truth is the people I care most about are the middle-income people in this country who have gotten screwed." He then proceeded to open the door to higher taxes on top earners, by name-dropping his pal Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots. From the Journal (emphasis mine):
And if there's upward revision it's going to be on high-income people. You know, I was with Bob Kraft the other night. He came to have dinner with me. He's a friend of mine. And as he left, he said, Donald, don't worry about the rich people. Tax the rich people. You got to take care of the people in the country. It was a very interesting statement. I feel the same way. ...
We want — look, the job producers we're going to take great care of, but we have to take care of middle-income people in this country. They built the country, they started this whole beautiful thing that we have, and we have to take care of them. And people have not taken care of them, and we're going to. And I mean, I have wealthy friends that say to me I don't mind paying more tax. And I'll tell you what I sort of don't like, is when they — you know, you'll do your charts in The Wall Street Journal and they'll be brilliantly done, very nice, and they'll show that a rich guy who made, you know, $25 million last year is going to pay less than he was. In a certain way, I don't like that. I'd rather take that difference and put it into the middle-income and put it into corporate.
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The Journal interviewers react credulously — they immediately ask Trump if such a plan should not, in fact, be able to attract votes from Democrats. But they do not ask about Trump's existing tax proposal — which does not actually include higher taxes on the rich — or even about why he has never followed through on his previous promises to raise taxes on people like himself.
In August 2015, then-candidate Trump told Bloomberg: "I do very well. I don't mind paying a little more in taxes. The middle class is getting clobbered in this country." A month later, he unveiled his tax plan in Trump Tower and declared, "It's going to cost me a fortune, which is actually true."
Every iteration of Trump's tax plan, from his first campaign outline to the lightly detailed blueprint his White House team released this spring, has been scored by independent analysts as a huge tax cut for the very rich.
You don't have to be an economist to understand why: Trump, in every case, has proposed reducing the top individual income tax rate, while also reducing business taxes that primarily affect high earners. (The goal of such cuts is to boost economic growth and lift incomes across the board.) He's floated a few loophole closures that would affect the rich, but the rate cuts would swamp them.
Here's how the Tax Policy Center, working off the very rough outline from this spring, projected Trump's plans would affect the rich and the middle class. The lines show increase in income — which means that in every scenario, the rich cash in big time.
Trump could change this, of course. He could heed his adviser Steve Bannon's call andincrease the top marginal rate. He could limit deductions — any deductions at all — to middle-class incomes or below. He could actively put forth a plan that includes provisions to force rich people to pay more in taxes, as Hillary Clinton did during the 2016 plan.
He has not done that. Until he does, no one should take his claims to the contrary seriously.