Do the Trump tax cuts give 83% of the ben­e­fits to the wealth­i­est 1%?

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - GLENN KESSLER [email protected]­

REP. DAVID N. CICILLINE (DR.I.): We need a tax cut for mid­dle­class fam­i­lies, not 83 per­cent of it go­ing to the top 1 per­cent, rich­est peo­ple in this coun­try, and the most pow­er­ful corporations. MARIA BARTIROMO: Well, I have got to push back on that, be­cause 80 per­cent of the tax cut plan didn’t go to the top 1 per­cent. As you know, con­gress­man, the tax cut plan low­ered all in­come lev­els, and they dou­ble the stan­dard de­duc­tion. So that talk­ing point . . .

CICILLINE: Maria, that’s just not true. BARTIROMO: No, it is true. CICILLINE: Maria, that’s just not true. An in­de­pen­dent out­side group said 83 per­cent of that tax cut goes to the top 1 per­cent, the rich­est peo­ple in this coun­try, the most prof­itable corporations. That is a fact.

BARTIROMO: Con­gress­man, it’s just not true.

—ex­change on Fox News’s “Sun­day Morn­ing Fu­tures,” Nov. 11, 2018

This is a clas­sic Wash­ing­ton mo­ment — a prominent jour­nal­ist and a law­maker ar­gu­ing over whether a factoid is ac­cu­rate. Bartiromo tried to factcheck Cicilline in real time — “the tax cut plan low­ered all in­come lev­els, and they dou­ble the stan­dard de­duc­tion” — and Cicilline in­sisted he was right. We trun­cated the tran­script above, as they kept squab­bling about it for an­other minute or so.

“That is in­ac­cu­rate,” Bartiromo de­clared. “No, it’s a fact,” Cicilline shot back.

Bartiromo is a con­ser­va­tive, and Cicilline is a Demo­crat. This is yet an­other ex­am­ple of how Democrats and Repub­li­cans talk past each other when they dis­cuss the Trump tax cut, with Repub­li­cans look­ing at the front end while Democrats tend to fo­cus only on the back end.

We’ve shown how House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) touted “Cindy,” the sin­gle mom who sup­pos­edly will get $700 ev­ery year from the tax bill and how House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) claimed 86 mil­lion peo­ple would see their taxes in­crease. Both re­lied on sleight of hand to pro­duce their statis­tics. Let’s dis­sect Cicilline’s talk­ing point.

The Facts

In 2018, most U.S. tax­pay­ers can ex­pect some kind of tax cut, ac­cord­ing to just about ev­ery anal­y­sis. The non­par­ti­san Tax Pol­icy Cen­ter (TPC) found that ini­tially, more than 80 per­cent of tax­pay­ers would get a tax cut, with fewer than 5 per­cent get­ting a tax in­crease.

Since the wealthy pay most of the in­come taxes, they end up with most of the tax cuts. (The top 1 per­cent in 2014 earned 20 per­cent of ad­justed gross in­come and paid nearly 40 per­cent of fed­eral taxes, ac­cord­ing to the Tax Foun­da­tion, a think tank in Wash­ing­ton.) The TPC re­port shows that in 2018, the top 1 per­cent would get 20.5 per­cent of the tax cuts; the top quin­tile would get 65.3 per­cent. In other words, that’s not nearly as lop­sided as Cicilline as­serted. So, score one for Bartiromo? Not so fast! Richard Luchette, a Cicilline spokesman, pointed to the same TPC study to de­fend the use of the statis­tic.

In 2027, the study shows, 82.8 per­cent of the tax cuts will flow to the top 1 per­cent. The top quin­tile ac­tu­ally re­ceives 107.3 per­cent of the tax changes — be­cause taxes ac­tu­ally in­crease for the folks in the low­est, sec­ond­low­est and mid­dle quin­tiles. It’s right there on Page 5 of the re­port.

What hap­pened? The in­di­vid­ual tax cuts ex­pire over the course of the decade. Repub­li­cans struc­tured the tax cut this way to keep the whole pack­age — es­pe­cially the cor­po­rate tax cut — in a bud­get box that al­lowed only for a $1.5 tril­lion in­crease in the fed­eral deficit over 10 years.

The as­sump­tion — pos­si­bly a big one — is that Con­gress will vote to ex­tend the tax cuts when they be­gin to ex­pire, just as most of the Ge­orge W. Bush tax cuts were ex­tended, with the even­tual sup­port of Democrats who had long op­posed the Bush-era cuts.

But the law is the law. It cer­tainly is within Cicilline’s right to fo­cus on the 2027 tax ta­bles that show the tax cuts tilted dra­mat­i­cally to­ward the rich­est of the rich.

But in stand­ing his ground in his Fox News in­ter­view, Cicilline failed to make clear that he was talk­ing about 2027, the end of the 10-year win­dow. In fact, he con­fus­ingly says that “we need a tax cut for mid­dle-class fam­i­lies, not 83 per­cent of it go­ing to the top 1 per­cent, rich­est peo­ple in this coun­try,” which sug­gests that there is no tax cut now for the mid­dle class. There is one; the ques­tion is whether Con­gress will ex­tend it or even im­prove it when it starts to lapse.

Other Democrats have been more adept about adding phrases such as “in the long run” or “by the end of the decade” when cit­ing the 2027 data. But Cicilline did not do that in this in­ter­view.

“Un­der that law, tax cuts for the mid­dle class are tem­po­rary,” Luchette said. “David sup­ports a per­ma­nent mid­dle-class tax cut and re­peal­ing the tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations so we can in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture. But the stat he cited re­ferred to the law as Repub­li­cans and Pres­i­dent Trump wrote and en­acted it.”

The Pinoc­chio Test

We have tended to give politi­cians on both sides of the aisle Two Pinoc­chios for telling only half of the story of the tax bill. Given past per­for­mance by Con­gress, we would be shocked if law­mak­ers sim­ply let the tax bill run its course and al­lowed it to raise taxes on tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. More­over, it is im­por­tant for Cicilline to sig­nal to view­ers that he is not talk­ing about this tax year, when many can ex­pect to pay less in fed­eral in­come taxes. So he earns two Pinoc­chios.


On “Sun­day Morn­ing Fu­tures” on Fox News last month, Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) mis­char­ac­ter­ized an ele­ment of Pres­i­dent Trump’s tax cuts. He’s seen on Capi­tol Hill last week.


Maria Bartiromo, host of “Sun­day Morn­ing Fu­tures,” pushed back on Cicilline’s as­ser­tions about the tax cuts on the Nov. 11 episode. She’s seen in North Charleston, S.C., in 2016.

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