In the middle of his speech trashing the climate accord, President Donald Trump suddenly blurted out that his “tax bill is moving along in Congress.” This was something of a surprise since, A) there is no tax bill and, B) nothing is moving along in Congress.
“The most diplomatic thing you could possibly say was, ‘Wow, that was a real head-scratcher,’” said Ron Wyden of Oregon, the leading Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. Diplomatically.
The House and Senate come back to Washington on Monday, and it’s time to be on guard. I know it’s hard for you to focus on the nation’s legislature when we have an administration that refuses to reveal whether the president believes the globe is warming. But attention must be paid.
You’d think the first priority would be passing the Obamacare repeal and a new health insurance plan, but it looks as if that puppy is never leaving the kennel. This is a wild guess, based mainly on the fact that there are 100 senators, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s been heard saying, “I don’t know how we get to 50.”
Also, everybody is going to be sort of distracted, what with the fired FBI director testifying before Congress about whether the president asked him to go easy on the fired national security adviser.
So productivity will be less than high. The one thing the Republicans really, really want to do is cut taxes. Well, that and raise the debt limit so the government doesn’t plunge into a giant, calamitous, deadly financial whirlpool and ruin the economy.
Of these two priorities, Congress prefers thinking about the tax one. There is bipartisan agreement in Washington that the current tax system, which Wyden likes to call “a dysfunctional, rotting economic carcass,” is … imperfect.
In theory, everyone could get together and come up with a plan to lower corporate tax rates while eliminating special-interest loopholes, make the system simpler for the average citizen and raise the rates on those who have the most ability to pay.
OK, forget the last one.
Also, the chances that there will be a big bipartisan deal are somewhat smaller than a premature baby gnat. The last time Congress actually managed that was in 1986. (Really, 1986. It was a great year. Lady Gaga was born. “The Phantom of the Opera” debuted in London. The Dow was hovering around 4,000. Democrats and Republicans went out for drinks together after work.)
The Trump administration, however, does have its own plan, which balances tax cuts with the closing of tax loopholes. We know this because Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin testified about it before the Senate Finance Committee last week. So far it’s only one page long, and Mnuchin answered a great many questions by saying, “That’s a very good question.”
Perhaps Mnuchin would have had more detail if he had had some help. He doesn’t have a deputy – there still isn’t a nominee. The last one, Goldman Sachs executive Jim Donovan, withdrew his name from consideration, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Also, we have a president who refuses to release his tax returns. Totally unfair to keep carping on that now that the election’s over. Except for the part about having a president who refuses to release his tax returns.
Nobody seems to have any idea what’s going on. The budget director, Mick Mulvaney, told a reporter that the budget Trump sent to Congress was not necessarily “indicative of what our proposals are.”
That was the budget from last week! You remember, the one that counted the same $2 trillion twice? But it presumed the tax cuts wouldn’t add to the deficit, and now that’s apparently back on the table. (The table, Wyden said in a phone interview, “is gonna collapse like some overloaded Thanksgiving banquet.”)
The officials who are working for this administration, when they’re not contemplating the ruination of their careers, keep insisting that something great is coming. The tax plan will be “very detailed” and actually drafted, as opposed to written on the back of a napkin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn told the Fox Business Network. And it will be ready … “by the end of the summer.”
So what about the thing that’s supposed to be, um, “moving along”? Could it be just a dumb tax cut for the wealthy? “Reform is still part of our agenda,” Cohn insisted.
Yeah, and tomorrow the president is going to release his tax returns, after a speech detailing the evolution of his thinking about climate change.
Let’s look at this in the brightest way possible. The bad news is that Trump, in a desperate lunge to accomplish something, will try to ram through a quick-and-dirty tax cut that will aid the rich and increase the deficit. Republican administrations that were much saner than this one did exactly that.
The good news is that this crowd is so inept it might not work.