Trump Seeks Democrats' Help on Tax Overhaul

By Byron Tau Features Dow Jones Newswires

President Donald Trump laid out a bipartisan case for his tax overhaul on Wednesday, promising that his administration would deliver a simpler, fairer tax code with the bulk of the benefits flowing to working Americans rather than the wealthy and well-connected.

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"Tax reform has not historically been a partisan issue -- and it does not have to be a partisan issue today," Mr. Trump said in remarks at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in the state's capital. "I really believe we're going to have numerous Democrats come over and sign because it's the right thing to do."

Republican leaders unveiled a plan earlier Wednesday that would overhaul the U.S. tax code, sharply reducing rates on businesses and many individuals while consolidating or eliminating some deductions. The document leaves out many details, however, resulting in an incomplete picture of what the tax burden will be on wealthier Americans, and who will benefit or lose out under the plan.

Republicans hope that a major tax overhaul, which last happened in 1986, could help boost the economy and stimulate economic growth. After the failure of Republicans so far to muster enough votes for a health-care overhaul, tax reform has taken on new importance for the administration.

Mr. Trump chose Indiana as the location for his inaugural tax event to highlight the benefits of lower taxes and less regulation. Mr. Trump's vice president, Mike Pence, previously served as governor of the state where he worked with the legislature to cut personal state income taxes. Since those cuts were enacted into law, the state's unemployment rate has fallen to 3.6%.

"Our country and our economy cannot take off like they should unless we dramatically reform America's outdated, complex and extremely burdensome tax code. It's a relic," said Mr. Trump.

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Mr. Trump traveled to Indiana with four members of Congress on Air Force One, including Sen. Joe Donnelly, an Indiana Democrat. Mr. Donnelly is up for reelection next year in a state that Mr. Trump won by nearly 20 points in the 2016 election. Though Republicans consider Mr. Donnelly a top target in next year's congressional elections, Mr. Trump is also hoping that his package of tax reform can win some support from Democrats in Congress.

Mr. Trump said if Mr. Donnelly didn't support his tax package, "we will campaign against him like you wouldn't believe," to loud applause from the friendly local audience.

In a statement, Mr. Donnelly said he is committed to working with Senate colleagues and the White House on a tax overhaul, but said the framework released Wednesday was missing details critical to determining "whether working- and middle-class families truly stand to benefit."

Mr. Trump said that his tax cut wasn't aimed at helping the wealthy -- but rather that the benefits would flow to working Americans in the form of lower rates, economic growth, simplified tax forms and renewed prosperity.

"It's not good for me, believe me," Mr. Trump said about his tax framework. Mr. Trump, a real estate mogul and reality television star, broke with decades of tradition during the 2016 presidential campaign by refusing to release his tax returns to voters. The impact of the tax proposal on Mr. Trump's tax burden can't be independently evaluated without access to his tax returns.

Under the proposal, some lower- and middle-income households could benefit from the plan's proposal to double the basic standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples. But the elimination of the $4,050 personal exemption, which helps hold down reported income, would take back some of that benefit.

At the same time, corporate rates would be cut and the elimination of the estate tax on inheritance and cuts for taxes on business profits would benefit many wealthy Americans. The estate tax now applies to only 0.2% of Americans who die each year.

Early reviews of the tax framework from Democrats on Capitol Hill indicate that the plan would have a tough time winning them over, with many prepared to argue that the plan appears to favor the wealthy.

"This so-called Republican tax plan cuts taxes disproportionately for the well-to-do, the very top of our economic system," said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. Mr. Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said: "No amount of spin, no amount of rhetoric can hide the fact that it's a far-right Republican scheme to endow future generations of the mega-wealthy and leave crumbs for the rest of us."

Write to Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 27, 2017 18:06 ET (22:06 GMT)