President Donald Trump misleadingly inflated the benefits of the tax overhaul when he claimed it provides “$3.2 trillion … in tax cuts for American families.” It actually totals about $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for all taxpayers, including corporations.
Trump shows only one side of the tax ledger. He counts tax changes that cut taxes and ignores those that will increase taxes.
For example, doubling the standard deduction results in $720 billion less in tax revenues over 10 years, but repealing personal exemptions increases tax revenues by more than $1.2 trillion.
Trump’s one-sided description of the tax benefits of the bill came in remarks at the White House as Republican lawmakers celebrated passage of the tax bill, which he signed Dec. 22.
Trump, Dec. 20: Records all over the place, and that will continue and then some because of what we did. But $3.2 trillion — just think of it — in tax cuts for American families, including doubling the standard deduction and doubling the child tax credit.
That statistic was echoed in a White House fact sheet on the tax bill released the same day.
White House Fact Sheet, Dec. 20: The Tax Cuts Act provides $5.5 trillion in tax cuts, $3.2 trillion, or nearly 60 percent, of which go to families.
It was also parroted in a tweet from Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter.
It’s true that changes in the new law that would cut taxes — for individual, business and international taxes — comes to about $5.5 trillion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. But when all of the provisions are considered — including those that would raise tax revenue — the government’s nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the tax law will result in $1.456 trillion less paid in individual, business and international taxes to the U.S. government over the next 10 years.
The president cited a subset of that $5.5 trillion, the amount that he said would go to “American families.”
To get to the $3.2 trillion figure, the White House tallied the provisions in the tax plan that would reduce tax revenues paid by families to the government, but similarly ignored provisions that would increase them. That includes:
- $1.2 trillion in cuts through changes to the tax brackets. The new law reduces five of the seven tax rates, including cutting the top rate from 39.6 to 37 percent.
- $720 billion by roughly doubling of the standard deduction (to $12,000 for singles and $24,000 for married people filing jointly).
- $573 billion in increased child tax credits.
- $637 billion in relief from the alternative minimum tax, which is paid by high-income taxpayers instead of using the regular tax system to calculate tax liability.
- Another roughly $100 billion from things like expansion of medical expense deductions, and reduced estate tax revenues.
What it does not include are the many offsets in the tax plan. The biggest is the elimination of personal exemptions — which is a deduction taxpayers receive for each person claimed on tax returns.
Under the old tax code, filers received a personal exemption of $4,050 per person, which means a married couple with two dependents receives a personal exemption of $16,200. That goes away under the new law (though as written, it would return after 2025). That provision will increase revenue to the government by a little more than $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
But there are other measures that work against taxpayers, including new limits on itemized deductions such as for state and local income taxes and some mortgage deductions.
According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, changes to the tax code would, on net, result in a little more than $1.1 trillion less being paid in individual taxes over the next 10 years. We can’t say exactly how much of that goes to families, since some business owners — such as partners in limited liability corporations — pay taxes through personal income taxes.
More importantly, it is misleading to refer to the cuts without including the increases. It would be similarly misleading — and absurd — for opponents of the tax plan to refer only to the tax increases.
“Taxpayers care about the bottom line of how much they owe, not how much the beneficial provisions alone help them, ignoring those provisions that raise their taxes,” Eric Toder, co-director of the Tax Policy Center, told us via email.
Overall, the tax plan will reduce taxes for most people in the first eight years. The Tax Policy Center analyzed the tax bill and concluded that most taxpayers at all income levels would get a tax cut in the years 2018 through 2025. As written, some of the individual tax benefits would expire and as a result, by 2027 more than half of taxpayers would pay higher taxes.
Tax Policy Center, Dec. 20: We find the bill would reduce taxes on average for all income groups in both 2018 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 change little for lower- and middle-income groups and decrease for higher-income groups. Compared to the current tax law, 5 percent of taxpayers would pay more tax in 2018, 9 percent in 2025, and 53 percent in 2027.
It is fair to say that the tax plan would cut taxes. But reporting only one half of the ledger — just the benefits and not the offsets — is misleading, and inflates the overall impact of the tax changes. The Joint Committee on Taxation says it would cut taxes by nearly $1.5 trillion over 10 years. That’s the unspun figure.