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December 1, 2017

Tax Cuts for the Children, Too

Increasing the child tax credit isn’t perfect, but it puts money back in the pockets of parents.

> Update, Dec. 4: The Senate rejected the Rubio-Lee amendment.

There’s a key element of tax reform that has been somewhat lost in all the contention over “tax cuts for the wealthy” and the huge “price tag” of the Republican effort. Yet that piece may be the linchpin that could make it more palatable to the centrists in the GOP and maybe — just maybe — break the logjam among Democrats opposing the bill if done correctly.

The enhanced child tax credit in the GOP bills was the pet project of Ivanka Trump, who focused on the role of tax policy to bring relief to working families. At the time, the theory was that the larger child tax credit could plant the seed for Democrats to join in and make tax relief a bipartisan effort. However, that seed has yet to bear any fruit as Democrats prefer to keep with their time-honored mantra of any Republican plan being nothing more than “tax cuts for the rich.”

The latest idea on that front is the amendment to the Senate bill introduced by Republicans Marco Rubio and Mike Lee. It would increase the current child care credit from $1,000 to $2,000 — the present incarnation of these bills has already increased it to $1,650 — and make the child care credit refundable against both income tax liability and payroll taxes as well. To make up the difference in cost to the Treasury, the proposed 20% corporate tax rate would, under Lee-Rubio, instead be 22%.

For this portion of the reform package, however, Democrats who want to throw out the baby with the bathwater have an unlikely ally: the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. Complaining that the amendment “is a disincentive to work” and mocking Rubio’s contention that 70% of the tax cuts go to businesses while just 30% go to individuals, they add, “Rubio and Lee are inviting Democrats to join them to pass the amendment on the Senate floor, though Democrats will oppose the final bill. Republicans will have to hang together to defeat (Lee-Rubio), which creates a tough vote for incumbents running in 2018.”

But Smith contends, “The use of tax credits can boost overall wages kept by workers who struggle to remain in the workforce while juggling child and dependent care. These credits would also require that at least one parent be actively employed to qualify, making this a support to workers, not an entitlement.” Also joining in is a tag team from National Review of Ramesh Ponnuru, who calls the WSJ piece “longer on sneering than analysis,” and Yuval Levin, stating the proposal is “tax relief in one of the places where it’s most needed and appropriate.”

One of Donald Trump’s campaign promises was to not only cut taxes but to also make it simpler to file them. And the fact is that most people in the middle will get a tax cut. Those rare exceptions will generally either be those who itemize deductions and live in high-tax, high-home price states, or be the larger beneficiaries of those deductions that aren’t commonly taken, such as medical expenses. On balance, this should be smooth sailing.

The tax bill, though, is in the trouble it’s in because Democrats and their media allies keep peddling the narrative that only the wealthy will benefit. Indeed, they will get a larger sum of money as their share of the cut — because they contribute more to begin with — and they will benefit from the eventual elimination of the death tax. That much is true because this proposal makes our system just a smidgen less progressive than it has been — although in some instances, like the “bubble tax” at the high end of the House plan, the reverse is true.

Yet the word is beginning to get out that the bill will be a good deal for most taxpayers, and its popularity may increase as the Senate version eliminates the ObamaCare individual mandate. So if it helps Democrats to bend the truth a little bit regarding the disappearance of that onerous mandate, heck, that’s quite all right as long as their side wins, right?

Isn’t it amazing that the “non-partisan” Congressional Budget Office can never figure on a dynamic analysis to score a tax cut bill, but it can automatically assume for the purpose of this analysis that one million will drop Medicaid coverage in 2019, and five million by 2024, when no eligibility requirements are changed? And if you see a chart from a Democrat telling you that taxes are going up for the middle and working classes — like in this example from House Democrat Whip Steny Hoyer — do your research: He’s telling you this number is based on 2027 incomes and rates and assuming that the cuts expire that year, which is a bug of reconciliation.

If the Democrats were honest, they would tell you this: “We find the bill would reduce taxes on average for all income groups in both 2019 and 2025. In general, higher income households receive larger average tax cuts as a percentage of after-tax income, with the largest cuts as a share of income going to taxpayers in the 95th to 99th percentiles of the income distribution. On average in 2027, taxes would rise modestly for the lowest-income group, change little for middle-income groups, and decrease for higher-income groups. Compared to current law, 9 percent of taxpayers would pay more in 2019, 12 percent in 2025, and 50 percent in 2027.” The source: the same Tax Policy Center report Hoyer uses to claim 82 million households will pay more. The reality: In two years, 91% would pay less.

Two generations ago, Americans were captivated by a president who often claimed “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Now members of John F. Kennedy’s party want to keep the waters from rising because some of the boats happen to be larger than others. The casualties of that class-warfare mindset include good ideas like Lee-Rubio.

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