Senate Republicans last week agreed on a budget resolution allowing a $1.5 trillion increase in the federal deficit over the next 10 years from tax legislation. This resolution paves the way for 51 Republican Senators to enact mammoth tax cuts by September 30, 2018.
As the centerpiece of these tax cuts, President Donald Trump has proposed to lower the corporate tax rate to 15% from 35%. However, despite the deficit cushion of $1.5 trillion allowed by last week’s budget resolution, a 15% rate is totally unrealistic.
Cutting the corporate tax rate to 15% would cost the U.S. Treasury $3.7 trillion over 10 years. But that cost cannot come close to being offset by repealing existing tax preferences, which all will be fiercely defended by special interests. A realistic legislative target would be a corporate tax rate of 25%. And under Senate rules this rate would have to expire after 10 years because it creates future budget deficits.
Let’s do the math on corporate and individual rates, together with optimistic assumptions about limiting existing tax preferences. The numbers are based on dynamic estimates from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, unless noted otherwise.
Although Donald Trump claims that his forthcoming tax plan will be “phenomenal,” he is in truth not likely to propose something really new.
Before the election, Trump put forth a broad tax plan and then a narrower plan. But even the narrower plan created a budget deficit of roughly $3 trillion to $4 trillion over 10 years, according to the dynamic scoring of the independent researcher Tax Foundation. That steep increase in the national debt would present major challenges, given rising interest rates and much larger budget pressures from entitlement programs.
Soon after the election, President Trump lambasted the border adjustment tax ( BAT ) plan of the House Republicans. Then he began to be more favorable to the BAT because he believed — wrongly — that it would impose a large tariff on Mexican imports to pay for the wall. In fact, the BAT would effectively impose a tax on all imports, which would probably be absorbed by importing companies and their customers.
The summer debate that has dominated Washington seems straightforward. Under what conditions should the U.S. government be allowed to borrow more money? The numbers that have been bandied about focus on reducing the cumulative deficit projection over the next 10 years, as measured by the Congressional Budget Office.
But there is a serious drawback to this measure because it ignores what will probably prove to be the U.S.’s single largest fiscal problem over the next decade: The lack of adequate capital buffers at banks.