Tax Reform Bill's Biggest Winner: Middle-Income Americans

COMMENTARY Taxes

Tax Reform Bill's Biggest Winner: Middle-Income Americans

Nov 13th, 2017 2 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Rachel Greszler

Research Fellow in Economics, Budget and Entitlements

Rachel researches and analyzes taxes, Social Security, disability insurance, and pensions to promote economic growth.
The policy is right, but will the plan garner enough votes to pass? iStock

Key Takeaways

GOP leaders in Congress hope to get the tax overhaul signed into law by the end of the year. 

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would do away with a lot of unnecessary and counterproductive tax credits and deductions.

If the plan makes its way to President Trump’s desk, Americans could celebrate the first significant tax reform in three decades.

Congressional Republicans recently unveiled a tax reform package aimed at sparking economic growth and making America more competitive in the global marketplace. And, while it could be better, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would do just that.

By simplifying the tax code, reducing marginal tax rates, and modernizing America’s outdated international tax system, the proposal would make tax filing easier for tens of millions of Americans, significantly cut taxes for the vast majority of taxpayers, reduce marginal tax rates for lower- and middle-income Americans as well as businesses, and encourage investment through a temporary full-expensing provision.

The policy is right, but will the plan garner enough votes to pass?

GOP leaders in Congress hope to get the tax overhaul signed into law by the end of the year. If that happens, what will happen to the average American’s tax bill next year, and what will happen to their job prospects and income over the next decade?

Lower tax rates: The proposal would lower tax rates for most people making less than about $250,000 a year. The chunk of income currently taxed at 15 percent — and some now taxed at 25 percent — would be taxed at a 12 percent rate. Additionally, some income now taxed at 28 percent would be taxed at 25 percent.

These rate reductions will benefit primarily middle-class households. The wealthy do not make out as well; many at the top would see a larger share of their income taxed at a 35 percent rate, as opposed to the current 28 percent and 33 percent rates. However, the top marginal tax rate of 39.6 percent (43.4 percent with the Obamacare surtax) would remain unchanged — and there’s a downside to that. Failing to lower the top individual tax rate will limit the plan’s effectiveness in terms of its potential for freeing up capital to invest in growing the economy; one out of every five dollars of taxable income is subject to the top marginal rate.

Moreover, the plan includes a hidden and higher tax rate of 45.6 percent that applies to incomes between $1,000,000 and $1,207,000 for individuals and between $1,200,000 and $1,614,000 for married couples. This adds complexity and excessively high marginal tax rates.

Double-sized standard deductions: By roughly doubling the standard deductions — from $6,350 to $12,000 for individuals, and from $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples — the plan would cut the number of taxpayers who itemize in half. This would make paying taxes simpler for tens of millions of taxpayers, and it would provide significant tax relief because more of workers’ incomes would be tax-free.

Business taxes: Most Americans care more about the individual tax code than they do the corporate one. However, America’s corporate tax — with the highest rate in the world and an outdated system for taxing earnings from abroad — is incredibly harmful not just to big corporations and their employees, but to all Americans. The plan would make a huge improvement in both areas. By reducing the top corporate rate (from 35 percent to 20 percent) and the top rate on small-business owners’ “pass-through”business income (from 39.6 percent to 25 percent), it will help boost  job creation and wages for all Americans.

Fewer deductions: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would do away with a lot of unnecessary and counterproductive tax credits and deductions. Most of these deductions are relatively small and taken by only a small proportion of taxpayers. The state and local income and sales tax deductions — which the plan eliminates — would almost certainly affect the most people. The property tax deduction would remain, however, with a cap of $10,000.

Even these changes wouldn’t affect all that many people, however. Only 30 percent of taxpayers currently benefit from itemized deductions, and fewer than 15 percent would itemize under the proposed changes. The $10,000 cap on property tax deductions, for example, would result in a higher tax liability only for individuals with an average taxable income of well over a half a million dollars per year.

If the plan makes its way to President Trump’s desk, Americans could celebrate the first significant tax reform in three decades. When evaluating the proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, lawmakers and taxpayers should consider the huge benefits that the pro-growth components of this plan would have on the incomes and opportunities of everyday Americans now and in the future. 

This piece originally appeared in Des Moines Register