Members of President Donald Trump's team are having a hard time defending his new tax plan and, when asked directly if it will benefit the middle class, have exhibited a pattern of strategic avoidance.
Appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America"Thursday morning, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin repeatedly ducked when asked if the tax overhaul would benefit middle class families.
When asked by host George Stephanopoulos what "a middle class family that makes 60k a year can expect in tax cuts," Mnuchin demurred. When pressed further if he could "guarantee that no one in the middle class is gonna pay more," he said that's "absolutely" the objective, but added: "I can't make any guarantees until this thing is done and on the president's desk."
Later, when Stephanopoulos asked about Trump and other wealthy elite benefiting from the elimination of the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax, Mnuchin responded saying, "this isn't about President Trump's tax returns; this is about the American public's tax returns. This is about creating economic effect for small and medium-sized businesses and making sure they have the same opportunities as large corporations."
"Making any assumptions about what the impact is on any person's individual taxes doesn't make sense," Mnuchin continued. "What we're going to do is lower the rates to spur capital investment, and that's what this is about."
Recounting the exchange, Washington Post columnist Aaron Blake wrote Thursday: "Points to Mnuchin for being honest here. But saying that your 'middle-class tax cut' may not cut taxes for all of the middle class is a pretty ominous admission—especially as you say that's your No. 1 goal. (If that's your No. 1 goal, it would stand to reason that it's nonnegotiable.)"
Later in the day, Press Secretary Sean Spicer fell into a similar dance with reporters during a press briefing. When asked why Mnuchin could not give a guarantee that middle class people would not have their taxes raised, Spicer said: "I think everyone in the middle class should know that this president's plan is going to make sure that they have more in their pocket."
When asked if that constituted a "guarantee from the White House," he said: "The position of the White House is that the goal of this thing, this president's tax plan, is to provide them and lower income people with more money in their pocket and a tax cut, yes. Thank you all very much." He then abruptly exited the stage.
Watch Spicer dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge when asked if Trump's tax plan will jack up taxes for the middle class. pic.twitter.com/zfpUMOAJWI
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Tax experts critical of the new plan say the claim that the plan is helping small businesses is a ruse to curry favor for what in reality is massive tax break for corporations and the ultra-wealthy.
"This is a classic kind of shell game; this is done all the time in political circles," Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), told the Guardian. "The reality is it does very little for small businesses—in most cases it does nothing for them, because they're already paying taxes at a lower rate. So this is a way of cutting taxes for the very wealthy but hiding it as helping small businesses."
"The small business is the poster child," agreed Chuck Marr, director of federal tax policy at the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "The same with the estate tax; they hold up a farmer when no farmers are affected. Because a farmer's sympathetic and the Walton family's not."
What's more, as the New York Times editorial board pointed out Wednesday, "the skimpy one-page tax proposal...was so empty of illustrative detail that few people could even begin to calculate its impact on their pocketbooks. Further, depending on where they live, some middle-class families might not benefit much or at all, because the plan does away with important deductions like those for state and local taxes."
As Blake observed, "the White House is bent on making sure this is labeled a 'middle-class tax cut.' And their ability to make that label stick is both dubious and hugely important."