WASHINGTON — The Trump administration pitched a tax reform outline Wednesday that calls for big corporate rate cuts, a simpler tax code, and big increases in standard deductions – a pricey package that could face an uphill climb in Congress.
"We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something really big," said Gary Cohn, director of President Trump's National Economic Council. "The president is going to seize this opportunity by leading the most significant tax reform legislation since 1986, and one of the biggest tax cuts in the American history."
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the goal of the plan — put together as part of the administration's legislative push ahead of Trump's 100th day in office – is "creating jobs and creating economic growth."
Republicans greeted news of the tax cut plan enthusiastically, though some GOP members and Democrats worried that the plan would further increase federal debt, cutting taxes without increasing income or cutting other parts of government.
"The Trump tax plan does not pay for itself" and "doesn’t even come close," said Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. "America is a great nation, but we haven’t yet discovered magic."
The Trump plan contains few details, with the staff able to outline it on a single sheet of paper. Aides said they would work in the coming weeks to develop specific legislative language for Congress, and stressed that most of the plan is negotiable.
Among the ideas:
A sharp cut in the corporate tax rate, from 35% to 15%, a rate that would also be available to small organizations that currently file returns under the individual tax code.
Reducing the number of tax brackets for individual filers from seven to three, with levels of 10%, 25% and 35%; Aides said they want to simplify the tax code by eliminating other deductions except for ones related to mortgage interest payments and charity contributions.
"Doubling" the standard tax deductions, which are currently $6,300 for individuals and $12,600 for married couples filing jointly.
Repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax, which had forced wealthier individuals to pay higher bills, and the estate tax, which Cohn and others described as "the death tax." Mnuchin described the AMT as an unnecessary complication ti the tax code.
There is no overall cost estimate to the plan.
"We're working on lots of details," Cohn said.
The Trump administration had originally planned to roll out their tax reform plan later this year. But Trump announced last week he would unveil it Wednesday, part of a week-long series of events leading up to his 100th day in office on Saturday.
Mnuchin wouldn't put a time frame on congressional approval, saying that "we’re working hard to get it done quickly.”
The White House had hoped to hold its tax plan until passage of a bill to repeal and repeal President Barack Obama's health care law, figuring that government savings from a new health care plan could be used to finance tax cuts. Indeed, the new Trump plan calls for eliminating the 3.8% "Obamacare tax."
So far, however, the Republican-run House has been unable to agree on a health care replacement.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he is looking forward to passing "pro-growth tax reform" as well. "Pro-growth tax reform means that we will have lower rates, we will have a simpler tax code with fewer brackets, and we will have an IRS that exists only to serve the taxpayer," Ryan said.
The four Republican leaders who met at the White House last night – Ryan, along with Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch – released a joint statement saying Trump’s principles would serve as “critical guideposts” as they work together to write legislation.
“Lower rates for individuals and families will allow them to keep more of their hard-earned money and empower them to invest more in their future,” they said. “Getting tax rates down for American companies, big and small, will create new jobs and make the United States a more inviting place to do business.”
While the Treasury Secretary and other officials said the tax cuts would stimulate the economy and generate economic growth to increase government revenues, some members of Congress expressed skepticism about those projections.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the chamber's top Democrat, said his party would fight any plan that benefits the rich at the expense of the middle class.
While awaiting details from the White House, Schumer said, "I can tell you this: If the president’s plan is to give a massive tax break to the very wealthy in this country — a plan that will mostly benefit people and businesses like President Trump's — that won't pass muster with we Democrats."
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., called the proposal "a massive tax giveaway to millionaires, billionaires and big corporations at the expense of middle class families in Pennsylvania ... It won't create jobs, increase middle class incomes or grow our economy."
Some Democrats said they would not vote for any tax reform unless and until President Trump releases his own tax returns — something Mnuchin made clear Trump will not do.