“I am the king of debt,” Donald Trump famously boasted during last year’s campaign. On Wednesday, the president is going to set about proving it—but perhaps not in the way he originally meant.
All indications are that the tax plan the White House is slated to unveil will include what Trump has described as a “massive” cut in the rate that corporations and many small businesses pay to the government. But it will omit the more politically painful choices that Republicans would need to make to offset the corresponding loss of revenue, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan’s proposed tax on imports or the elimination of popular deductions for charitable giving and homeowners. The result is a tax plan that, like the ones Trump offered as a candidate, could add trillions of dollars to the national debt. You can call them tax cuts, but they aren’t tax reform.
In pursuing the cuts-only approach favored by supply-side economic conservatives, Trump is forgoing—at least for the moment—the more ambitious overhaul of both the corporate and individual tax code that Republicans like Ryan have been pursuing for years. That would take months, if not years, more to complete, and the president plainly does not want to wait. He caught both Republican lawmakers and, reportedly, his own staff off-guard by announcing that the White House would unveil some sort of tax plan this week, ahead of the 100-day marker of his presidency. What Trump will actually release might be little more than a sheet of paper with some broad principles, much less a detailed legislative proposal. It’s the Cliffs Notes version of a tax plan, which will make for a clean headline and is simpler to explain to voters than a proposal with the inherent winners and losers that a broader reform package would create.