Will Jeb Bush’s New Tax Proposal Bring Change?
As the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. In this instance, the metaphorical bush is, actually, a Bush. Jeb Bush, to be exact. Jeb is currently running for President, and, in order to accentuate his policy credentials, he released a dramatic, albeit predictable, conservative tax proposal. However, two oft-promised conservative “birds” (humor me as I extend this metaphor), balanced budgets and economic growth, will escape the hands of the American people under Jeb’s tax plan.
First, let’s examine Jeb’s tax proposal in the context of deficit reduction, a paramount concern for the Republican Party. Jeb is advertising his plan as “Reagan-Inspired,” saying it would be the ideological descendent of the 1986 Reagan tax cut, which Jeb selectively remembers as being successful. He might have forgotten that Reagan betrayed the core conservative principle of fiscal responsibility, as he ran up the deficit during this time to pay for things he couldn’t afford. We know Jeb’s brother, George, also lacked fiscal discipline, as evident from the massive tax cuts (largely for the wealthy) that accompanied two neoconservative crusades in the Middle East and the establishment of Medicare Part D. Taken at face value, without any serious proposals for slashing spending, deficits under Jeb’s tax plan would be more of the same. The New York-based Center for Global Enterprise (among its members is Glenn Hubbard, a Bush economic advisor) estimated that even when taking economic growth into account, the Jeb tax plan will cost at least $1.2 trillion over ten years. Conservatives are quick to remind us that the national debt is approaching $19 trillion, but they refuse to specify how they would seriously cut spending to balance the budget. Jeb is no exception. His plan is fiscally irresponsible, and Jeb should either be honest with the public about which departments or major programs he intends to cut, or he should stop proposing expensive tax cuts under the guise of fiscal responsibility.
Secondly, “Jeb-onomics” will most likely fail to move the needle on economic growth, especially toward his arguably fantastical goal of four percent per year. While his tax policy claims to further this goal, the efficacy of his proposals are dubious, as they place too much faith in tax cuts for the wealthy. A nonpartisan group called Citizens for Tax Justice reported that more than half of the overall tax cut will go to the top one percent of earners. Also, Jeb’s plan eliminates the so-called death tax, which curbs the establishment of a self-perpetuating elite. Maybe if Jeb wanted to avoid frustrating campaign battles with trust-fund babies claiming to be shrewd businessmen (cough, Trump), he would rethink his position on this issue. All of this signals that the Bush family’s faith in trickle-down economics has yet to fade. The Bush tax cuts of the previous administration illustrated that cutting taxes on the wealthy is not a serious option for sparking fantastic economic growth. It doesn’t hold up in theory, and it doesn’t hold up in practice. Most importantly, Jeb touts that four percent growth will help boost wages for millions of Americans who haven’t seen a raise in years. However, he fails to understand that although the economy has grown for much of the past thirty years, wages have remained stagnant during that time frame, and nearly all of the new income generated in recent years has flowed to the top one percent of earners. The one percent will benefit greatly from Jeb’s tax plan, but the average American isn’t likely to see much of an improvement.
While Jeb’s tax plan is, as a whole, foolish, a few notable proposals are pleasing to the sober-minded among us. One such proposal is to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers. Not only would such an expansion result in lower taxes on our poorest citizens, it would incentivize unemployed workers to find jobs, since the marginal benefit of a small yet steady paycheck would increase as a result of a reduced tax burden on such work. Another smart idea in Jeb’s plan is the proposal to close the carried interest loophole, which currently lines the pockets of Wall Street bankers while doing little for the common good. Additionally, Jeb’s premise of simplifying the tax code and removing costly special-interest deductions has found bipartisan support. President Obama himself has supported lowering the corporate tax rate under the condition of removing deductions that heavily favor certain sectors (e.g. finance) over others.
Ultimately, Jeb Bush does not share the same vision for the future as I do. I envision an America where every citizen has access to quality health care, where no child faces food insecurity, and where anyone seeking a college education can find access to it. Jeb’s plan does not get us there, but neither does it achieve its own, conservative goals. Instead, the American people will be left to watch the birds from a distance.