Tax Reform—Who Needs It?

Financial FAQs

Firstly, we know this isn’t real tax reform when the respective Senate and House bills allow an additional $1.5 trillion in debt added to the existing $20 trillion of national debt. Why, when during prosperous times such as these with two consecutive quarters of 3 percent GDP growth, good economics tells us it is time to pay down the debt?

It gets worse. Some spending is cut—up to $1.5 trillion in Medicare and Medicaid for the poorest and elderly. And the House bill proposes cutting out the exemptions for property taxes, state and local taxes, abolishing the estate tax.  The Senate bill cuts the $1m mortgage interest deduction in half to make up for the loss in tax revenue.

And all this is to be done without any input from Democrats. Why would Republicans even try to ram this through with only Republican votes in the first place? That again tells us this isn’t real tax reform, as I said, because their wealthiest supporters and corporations benefit the most, while the poorest and elderly among us get stiffed financially.

So, instead of spending the increased tax revenues on reducing our national debt, they want to give it to their wealthiest donors and corporations—that are already making record profits.


This is what happened in 2001, when GW Bush and Dick Cheney blithely erased President Clinton’s preceding four years of actual federal budget surpluses with tax cuts for these same people. What was their rationale?

It was based on a thesis by a then unknown economics graduate student, Arthur Laffer, who drew what came to be known as the Laffer Curve on a napkin in a 1974 meeting with Dick Cheney, then President Gerald Ford’s deputy chief of staff. It was a rationalization never confirmed or evidenced by either history or validated by economic theory.

“The conventional wisdom was: You want more revenue, you raise taxes,” Cheney recalled 30 years later, in a Bloomberg interview reenacting that landmark 1974 meeting. “What Art brought to the table with these curves is that if you wanted more revenue, you were better off if you lowered taxes, to stimulate economic growth and economic activity.”

But that didn’t happen. In 2013 the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that, when the associated interest costs are taken into account, the Bush tax cuts (including those that policymakers made permanent) would add $5.6 trillion to deficits from 2001 to 2018.  This means that the Bush tax cuts will be responsible for roughly one-third of the federal debt owed by 2018.

So the Clinton surpluses were squandered, instead of bolstering the social security and Medicare funds. Brookings Institution economist William Gale and Dartmouth professor Andrew Samwick, former chief economist on George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, found that “a cursory look at growth between 2001 and 2007 (before the onset of the Great Recession) suggests that overall growth rate was … mediocre” and that “there is, in short, no first-order evidence in the aggregate data that these tax cuts generated growth.”

When will this foolishness stop, and rational economic thinking return to congress? New York Times’ Paul Krugman says: “..anyone who has paid attention to U.S. politics knows the answer. First, they will lie, unashamedly, about what their bill actually does. Second, they will try to distract working-class voters by stoking racial animosity. That didn’t work too well in Tuesday’s elections, but they’ll keep on trying.”

Harlan Green © 2017

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About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly and The Huffington Post
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