- Democrats have promised to repeal the Trump tax bill, but it will survive.
- Sinema tried, but other Dems were squeamish about hitting the super-rich with new taxes.
- It appears that 2025 will be the next time Dems will be able to revisit the GOP tax cuts.
Democrats took the pieces of their once-shattered agenda and stitched them together into a climate, health and tax package that passed the Senate. However, they left a large part behind.
The Republican tax cuts of 2017 survived a Democrat-controlled House, Senate, and White House largely intact — and they’re likely to stay.
Most Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have campaigned in 2020 to roll back portions of the tax bill. Liberals and many economists argued that the GOP tax cuts contained outsized benefits for the wealthiest Americans and large corporations, which used much of the windfall to buy back stocks.
Biden and the Democrats planned to rescind large parts of the law to fund an expanded safety net as part of the original Build Back Better plan last year. They used a maneuver called reconciliation to authorize it themselves without needing the GOP’s support. It left them little leeway, as they had to find unanimous support in the Senate and had few votes left in the House of Representatives.
They met with opposition from Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who hit the brakes on increases in tax rates for individuals and businesses last fall.
Tax increases are politically difficult
Top Democrats acknowledged they were falling short of their original ambitions, citing the need to achieve unanimity in a faction that spanned the ideological spectrum from progressives to fiscal moderates.
“In these types of debates, you always establish where you want to go,” Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the finance committee, told Insider. “If you’re looking for 50 votes, you won’t get everything you want.”
Wyden put many other tax hikes on the table, such as a billionaires tax and an attempt to scrap a provision that would allow the wealthy to transfer their wealth on death without taxation. However, these tended to be the first plans scrapped, as some Democrats remained concerned about hitting the wealthiest segment of Americans with tax increases.
“Obviously there’s a lesson that tax increases for the rich and corporate can only be done by the Democratic Party,” David Kamin, a former White House economic adviser to Biden and a law professor at New York University, recently told Insider. “It’s not possible on a bipartisan basis, and a wafer-thin majority makes it very difficult.
Sinema was an outlier among Democrats for her staunch opposition to reversing the tax cuts. Most supported raising taxes on the wealthy and large corporations. Manchin repeatedly pushed for reversing Trump’s tax cuts as well, until he scrapped most of the tax increases in mid-July.
The next big fight could come in 2025
When Republicans passed their tax bill, they made the corporate tax cuts permanent, but did not do so for individual tax cuts. Republicans are betting that a future Congress would not allow a tax hike for Americans, so it will expire in 2025.
In addition, Democrats have extended a measure that offers Americans financial assistance to get cheaper health insurance through 2025 under the Affordable Care Act. In view of the tax burden that will be incurred at this point in time, it envisages a possible arrangement for a bipartisan agreement between the two parties.
“Obviously, given the broad phasing out of each page of the 2017 tax cuts, 2025 will be another key moment and another opportunity to reconsider the tax system,” Kamin said.
“So far, it’s been about maintaining the tax cuts that have helped get the economy going again,” Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a retired Senate Republican, told Insider. “In the future, it will be a question of treating the expiring provisions strictly individually on the transit side. Just like with the R&D loan, there is a lot to do.”