Economy, Regs, & Taxes

Two Completely Different Tax Approaches

Comparing and contrasting Clinton's and Trump's plans.

Michael Swartz · Oct. 14, 2016

In the second presidential debate last Sunday night, Donald Trump made a point that seemed to be lost in the post-debate analysis of whether he was serious about putting Hillary Clinton in jail or just trying to deflect attention from his crude, decade-old remarks about married women strategically discussed non-stop by a breathless 24/7 media complex. Your paycheck could be affected by the next president.

The question was a loaded one, and seemingly intended as a softball for Hillary: “What specific tax provisions will you change to ensure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share in taxes?” Never mind the premise of a “fair share,” since the American tax system is already steeply progressive in the sense that the wealthy pay a far larger than proportional share of their income.

Donald Trump, though, made the distinction quite clear: “I will tell you, Hillary Clinton is raising your taxes, folks. … She’s raising your taxes really high. And what that’s going to do is a disaster for the country. But she is raising your taxes and I’m lowering your taxes. That in itself is a big difference.”

If you look at the competing tax plans, it may not necessarily be true that Clinton would raise your taxes — but that’s because those who benefit the most likely aren’t paying income taxes in the first place. Clinton’s latest scheme doubles the existing child tax credit for families with children age four or under to $2,000, and it would be a refundable tax credit (read: income redistribution). According to Clinton aides, it’s part of an overall promise to eventually “expand the tax credit for families with older children, and to make more refundable tax credits available to low-income workers without children.”

Naturally, Hillary would get that money back to the Treasury by soaking the rich. Her proposal would increase the top-end marginal rates, take more from investors, businesses and estates, and cap several popular tax breaks for top-tier earners like Trump, who’s a favorite whipping boy for Clinton and her leftist ilk based on his wealth. (Of course, thanks to the Clinton Foundation, Hillary is a top-tier earner as well — but people don’t perceive her as being one of the “top 1%.”)

On the other hand, Trump’s plan would simplify things. He proposes cutting the number of rates from seven to just three, and lowering the high-end rate from the 39.6% toll originally put in place by Hillary’s husband, trimmed down by George W. Bush, and restored by Barack Obama in 2012. Trump would bring the top rate down to 33% — close to where it was before Bill Clinton raised it in 1993, although still short of the 28% top bracket enjoyed under Ronald Reagan. Capital gains would also get a small benefit, with the rate lowered to 20% from 23.8%.

Another benefit that all taxpayers would enjoy would be a substantial bump in the standard deduction to $15,000 for single taxpayers and $30,000 for couples. He even proposes a deduction of his own for child care expenses.

And in a move sure to anger progressive Wall Street occupiers, corporations would receive a hefty tax break, with their rate plummeting from 35% to 15%. This would transform the U.S. corporate tax rate from the highest in the First World to a levy below the global average.

While Trump believes that the additional revenue to the federal government would bring the overall package closer to revenue-neutrality, he hedges his bet with a deduction cap of $100,000 for single filers and $200,000 for married couples.

It goes without saying that analysts are all over the map on how these competing tax plans would affect Americans and our economy. One take on this comes from the nonpartisan but conservative National Center for Policy Analysis. NCPA’s dynamic analysis of the Trump tax plan contends that the changes would lead to more than three million new private-sector jobs over the next decade. This would mean abundant opportunity for the 554,000 public-sector employees who would be furloughed thanks to $7.4 trillion in decreased federal revenues over that decade. GDP growth would also be enhanced.

As a counterpoint, NCPA predicts Hillary’s plan would be great for government employees, but not so good for the five or so private-sector workers let go for each new bureaucrat hired. Federal revenues would increase by $615 billion over 10 years, but it’s likely this new revenue will still fall well short of the spending put in place by the second Clinton administration. (All figures cited by the NCPA are in comparison to CBO benchmarks laid out for the period.)

So how does Trump’s statement stack up? Well, it truly depends on what you consider to be a tax increase and where you stand on the economic ladder. If you consider slower economic growth and more government spending as a hidden tax on your income, then Trump is absolutely right. Certainly there are those who will benefit from Hillary’s plan, but it’s likely they weren’t adding much to the till anyway as low-wage earners who can take advantage of the existing tax structure to receive more back from the government than they put in. (Besides the federal government’s insistence on artificially high withholding each pay period, millions in the working and middle classes already give Uncle Sam an interest-free loan by adding to their backup withholding in such a way to ensure an even larger refund.)

Trump’s plan, however, would be more subtle but would spread the tax breaks among employees and employers alike. It would tend to flatten the system to some extent, although it’s still a far cry from more conservative proposals to either create a truly flat income tax or scrap the income-based paradigm altogether and adopt a consumption-based tax that proponents say would work more proportionately to income but reward those who save and invest.

In either case, though, things will remain very complex and we will still hear horror stories about the winners and losers in this game. Unfortunately, regardless of who wins, it’s likely our government will be spending the money faster than it comes in — and no one seems to be asking how our next president will address that potentially ruinous situation.

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