Home » Opinion | The Fight Over Taxes Shows the Enormous Policy Stakes of the Trump-Biden Electio

Opinion | The Fight Over Taxes Shows the Enormous Policy Stakes of the Trump-Biden Electio


To many Americans, the 2024 election is an unwelcome contest between the felonious and the frail. Voters hear democracy is at risk, which is true but is also another potential reason for disillusionment.

Yet the stakes of their choice for the basic public policies that shape their lives are huge, if less discussed.

Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to taxes. Whoever wins in 2024, the United States is on course for the biggest, most consequential debate over future policy priorities since the Great Recession: Should the enormous, ineffective and inequality-abetting tax cuts that Donald Trump signed into law in 2017 be extended past their scheduled expiration in 2025? And should the permanent corporate tax cuts in that bill be kept in place even as it has become clear how little these business goodies have done for the economy?

This is a choice between two fundamentally different visions for our country. If the Trump tax cuts are extended — which Steve Scalise, the Republican House majority leader, recently said he would seek to do in the first one hundred days of a second Trump term — and the corporate tax reductions left undisturbed, our elected leaders will have locked in place priorities that a large majority of Americans say they oppose. Worse, the Trump tax package will exacerbate a fiscal crisis for programs like Social Security and Medicare that are highly popular, including among Republicans.

To understand the stakes, we must go back to Mr. Trump’s first year in office. Republicans had one big legislative accomplishment: the tax cut bill they squeaked through after barely failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The tax cuts were among the least popular major legislation Congress had considered in a generation.

To mask its price tag and comply with budget rules, architects of the bill, like Paul Ryan, the former House speaker, designed it like an exploding mortgage. The most unpopular part — a massive cut in corporate taxes — was made permanent. Most of the rest was set to expire in 2025, just when a newly elected president and Congress entered office. The idea was that these tax cuts for American households would be politically impossible to reverse. As Mr. Ryan explained after leaving Congress, “We made temporary what we thought could get extended; we made permanent what we thought might not get extended that we wanted to stay permanent.”

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