Politics

White House Defends Tax Plan as Good for Middle Class

National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, pictured here at the Capitol on Sept. 12,  says wealthy “guys like myself” don’t need a tax break. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Facing criticism that a Republican-crafted tax plan would hand wealthy Americans relief at the expense of the middle-class, a rich White House aide declared Thursday the blueprint does not favor “guys like myself.”

That was the message from Goldman Sachs boss-turned-chief White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, whose estimated net worth is north of $260 million, a day after President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans rolled out a tax overhaul framework.

Most details of the plan are yet to be crafted by tax-writing lawmakers, but Cohn used Thursday’s White House press briefing to assert that a typical family bringing home $100,000 a year with two kids that has used the standard deduction would get a tax cut of about $1,000 annually.

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“That is what we are spending all of our time doing,” Cohn said of the Trump administration’s stated goal of passing a tax bill to give middle-class Americans tax relief.

“Guys like myself should not be allowed to put their assets into a partnership, and reduce our tax liability by 10 percent,” he said.

White House officials and congressional tax-writers are pushing for a final product “as quickly as we can,” Cohn said, making clear the president wants to sign a bill before the end of the year.

White House officials want the House to finish work on its tax bill in October, the Senate to finish in November, and the president to sign a bill by the end of the year, he said. That aligns the White House’s preferred timeline with that of congressional GOP leaders.

Cohn said the “Big Six” tax-writers have been working well together. The roster — House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Cohn — does not include any congressional Democrats.

Trump’s top economic aide did not mention any push to get Democratic votes a day after Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and other senior Democrats slammed the GOP plan. Schumer said it “socks it to the middle class” while giving rich Americans like Cohn a tax cut.

(The plan proposes three tax brackets, the highest set at 35 percent; that would be lowered from the existing highest rate of 39.6 percent. It would repeal the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax.)

Despite Trump’s efforts to get Democrats on board, the only time Cohn mentioned Democrats was when asked about Schumer’s embrace of small-business rate cuts; Cohn playfully urged Schumer to propose a rate lower than the GOP plan’s proposed 20 percent corporate tax rate.

Meanwhile, the White House expects to send a second hurricane-relief funding request to Congress in the next three or so weeks due to the crisis in Puerto Rico, White House homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert told reporters during the same briefing.

He did not specify the cost.

Additionally, Trump did not waive the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 — known as the “Jones Act” — for the Puerto Rico relief effort until Thursday because the administration concluded all commodity needs, including diesel fuel, were being met, Bossert said. (That law regulates U.S. waters and favors American-flagged vessels and their cargo.)

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When Puerto Rican officials requested it be waived as a precaution, Trump agreed to waive the act as soon as he was informed of the request, Bossert said. Puerto Rican officials made the request Wednesday evening, and Trump was informed the next morning, he said.

 

And on health care, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed Trump by saying the White House believes it has the votes to pass a GOP overhaul bill pushed by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana — even though Senate Republicans agreed Tuesday to shelve it over differences and try to pass it next year.

 

“We have the votes on the substance, but not necessarily on the process,” Sanders said. That came a day after Trump signaled two GOP holdouts, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, were now on board. It also came hours after the president fired off a morning tweet warning GOP members he intends to try to strike a health deal with Democrats.

 

On Wednesday evening, informed of Trump’s assertion the votes were there a day later but time was too short as rules to allow it to pass with 51 votes expire Friday, the Senate GOP Conference chairman dismissed the claim.

 

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota laughed when asked about Trump’s claim, saying of the mysterious late-secured votes, “I’d like to know where they are.”

 

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