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Does The Republican Tax Legislation Follow Through On Trump's Promises?


It looks like President Trump will get his wish - a tax overhaul bill for Christmas. Today House Republicans did their part to make that happen.


PAUL RYAN: On this vote, the yeas are 227, and the nays are 203. The conference report is adopted without objection. The motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.



A beaming House Speaker Paul Ryan there. The Senate plans to vote tonight, but the bill first needs to be tweaked because of technical issues in the language, and then the House will actually have to vote again tomorrow before President Trump can sign it into law. Most Americans would see at least a temporary tax cut beginning next year. For corporations, the cuts would be permanent. The corporate tax rate would drop from 35 percent to 21 percent.

SUAREZ: The bill also zeroes out the Obamacare fine for not buying health insurance coverage. We'll have more on the potential impact of that elsewhere in the program. Right now we're going to explore how well this tax bill delivers on President Trump's promises. NPR's Kelsey Snell, Ron Elving and Tamara Keith dug into that in the latest NPR Politics Podcast.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Let's go back in time to September 26. President Trump was speaking at the White House about his goals for the tax plan. He was sitting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House Ways and Means Committee. This was sort of the initial rollout of the blueprint.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our plan is based on four very crucial principles.

KEITH: So I want to go through these four principles and see where we ended up.


TRUMP: First we must make our tax code simple and fair. It's too complicated. People can't do it. American taxpayers waste 6 billion hours each year to comply with the tax code. Under our plan, the vast majority of Americans will be able to file their tax return on a single page.

KEITH: All right, guys, does this simplify the tax code?

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: This is not exactly the postcard we've been talking about (laughter).

KEITH: This is not the postcard you're looking for.

SNELL: This is not the postcard you're looking for.


RON ELVING, BYLINE: The postcard, by the way, has been around for a very, very, very long time. It's always getting promised by new Republican administrations and new Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Whenever they take over - we're going to simplify the tax code so you can file on a postcard. And let me just say, if you talk to somebody who teaches taxes in a law school or a business school, they will tell you every time. Simplification and fairness are not friends. The simpler you make the tax code, the nicer it is for the people at the high end and the more difficult it is for fairness to trickle down to the rest of the taxpayers.

SNELL: Yeah. That's actually a really important point that Republicans in the Senate particularly have been making. They were wedded to the idea of having more tax brackets because it makes it easier for them to make sure that the distribution of the tax burden is more evenly spread out. It's complicated, but it's actually better for many people.

KEITH: All right, let's go to the second principle the president talked about.


TRUMP: Second, we will cut taxes tremendously for the middle class not just a little bit but tremendously. That includes nearly doubling the standard deduction that most families take on their taxes and increasing the child tax credit which families...

KEITH: All right, so can really all of these things be true?

SNELL: I guess it kind of depends on how you define middle class. The salary that people make in a big city is different than the salary that people make typically in a lower-cost area. So it's hard to say exactly what middle class means in this scenario. On the whole, they say that most Americans will see a benefit under this bill.

KEITH: But I think we should also just throw out there that very wealthy Americans will see tremendous benefit from this bill as well.

SNELL: Right because they're the people who are getting a big reduction at the top rate. And they're the people who are most likely to be itemizing. So they're combining a lower rate with access to both a higher standard deduction and the idea of being able to keep some of these itemized deductions that they like. So yes, the wealthy people will walk away from this doing quite well.

KEITH: All right, principle number three...


TRUMP: Third, we will lower tax rates for businesses to create more jobs and higher wages for Americans.

SNELL: Businesses will be getting a tax cut, and so the White House is following through on that promise.

KEITH: Yeah. And the only question is, will the second half of that promise come true? And that's not really up to the president. That's up to businesses - the question of whether this will create more jobs and higher wages for Americans.

SNELL: Right.

KEITH: All right - numero quatro...


TRUMP: Finally, we want to bring back trillions of dollars in wealth parked overseas. We want this money invested right here in America.

SNELL: Again, this one is up to businesses. They will have a lower tax rate, and that will make it more appealing for businesses to bring back the money that they have parked overseas. But there's no guarantee that they will do this. The change in the system makes it so it's very difficult for them to avoid doing that. But how they invest that money and what they do with it is really up in the air. We will find out over the next year or so how this works out.

SUAREZ: NPR's Kelsey Snell - we also heard NPR's Tamara Keith and Ron Elving, part of the NPR Politics Podcast team. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.