Updated at 6:19 p.m. | Eager to garner Democratic support for a still-emerging tax overhaul package, President Donald Trump on Wednesday expressed a willingness to send larger tax bills to the wealthiest Americans.
During a meeting with lawmakers from both parties, Trump pledged that he wants lawmakers to craft a bill focused on slashing middle-class tax rates and doing things to create jobs — code for a dramatic corporate tax rate cut.
“The rich will not be gaining at all with this plan. We are looking for the middle class and we are looking for jobs — jobs being the economy," Trump told reporters as the White House meeting began. “So we’re looking at [the] middle class and we’re looking at jobs.
“I think the wealthy will be pretty much where they are, pretty much where they are,” Trump told reporters of tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. “If they have to go higher, they’ll go higher.”
A few hours later, the White House deployed legislative affairs director Marc Short to clarify the president's statements.
Trump is not proposing to hike rates for the wealthiest - or any - Americans, Short told a handful of reporters.
But the richest Americans could end up paying more to the IRS each year if he signs into law a measure that targets tax deductions Short said , adding: "He is not looking to raise rates."
“What he is observing is … the wealthiest are best able to take advantage of deductions, and if we are simplifying the tax code and eliminating some of those deductions, there are scenarios where some in the upper income brackets may have a higher pay to the IRS,” Short said.
Hours earlier, Trump did not get into specifics such as the individual and corporate tax rate levels he wants to see in a tax bill, Democratic Reps. Peter Welch of Vermont and Thomas Suozzi of New York told reporters at the White House.
Welch noted Trump repeated his willingness to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans several times during the sessions, which lasted around an hour. But “what matters is when the ink is dry” and whether the coming bill improves the lives of middle-class Americans, Welch said.
Trump did not give the group of bipartisan lawmakers any sense of whether he would settle for a lowered corporate tax rate that fails to get to his desired 15 percent level, Welch and Suozzi said.
Democrats in the meeting told Trump any bill that proposes a 15 percent corporate rate or lowers rates for the richest Americans would not garner Democratic votes in the House.
They described the president as “actively listening” to Democrats’ viewpoints during the meeting, and drilled home his point that a tax bill is about creating jobs.
“We as Democrats recognize that the president resonated during his campaign with people that have been left behind by globalization and technology and they want a better wage in this country,” Suozzi said. “We need to work together to enhance jobs in this country.”
Suozzi said the biggest achievement of the meeting was Trump getting Republicans and Democrats in the same room to discuss taxes and other matters on which they disagree.
Leading Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, have flatly stated their conference will not support any tax measure that cuts rates for the highest-earners.
On Aug. 30, hours before Trump kicked off his public push for a tax bill, Schumer told reporters what the president had called for and publicly spelled out about a tax plan amounted to “really a boon for the very wealthy.”
“The president has two paths he can take,” Schumer said then. “We hope for the sake of the country, he’ll choose to work with us and put the middle class, rather than wealthy special interests, first.”
Trump’s critics, including many congressional Democrats, have accused the president of wanting to include tax rate reductions that would benefit his own personal financial situation.
On Tuesday, Trump’s top Capitol Hill liasson, Marc Short, told reporters White House officials and GOP congressional leaders have to decide “sometime in October” whether there is ample Democratic support — especially in the Senate — to pass a bipartisan measure.
If there is not, they will need time to tee up a budget resolution with rules for a 51-vote threshold in the Senate that could pass with just GOP votes — a strategy that failed on the recent Republican health bill.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday insisted Trump has been meeting with Democratic lawmakers trying to get their insights. But he has yet to huddle with the party’s real tax experts, including the top Democrats on the House Ways and Means and other tax-writing committees.
In an ominous sign for Trump’s quest for Democratic support, that House panel’s ranking member, Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, released a statement that lambasted what he has been told so far about what GOP and White House tax-writers likely will roll out in a couple weeks.
“Unfortunately the Republican tax principles we have seen so far have been largely vacuous, and I fear their updated framework to be released later this month will only be more of the same,” Neal said.