If Donald Trump hadn't won the election, we wouldn't be talking about tax reform right now. We'd be talking about all the ways President Hillary Clinton was trying to extract a tax increase from the Republican Congress. The establishment press would be blaming "partisan" Republicans for causing gridlock and a "broken Washington" by declining to cave to Clinton's oh-so-reasonable demand for higher taxes.
In What Happened, Clinton (now on book tour through mid-December) makes many excuses for her loss. But she seems not to grasp the role played by one of her biggest areas of policy contrast with Trump: taxes.
Voters motivated by this timeless pocketbook issue found a clear choice between Clinton's loud crusade for higher and more complex taxes and Trump's clarion call for lower and simpler taxes.
Early in the campaign, a Clinton spokesman warned there would be "revenue enhancements." She didn't disappoint.
Clinton repeatedly and visibly called for tax increases. Lots of them. The collection of tax hikes she wished to impose upon the public totaled at least $1 trillion over a decade.
Nearly every time Clinton talked about tax policy it was for the purpose of pushing one of her various and sundry tax hikes. And she didn't even try to make a case for comprehensive tax reform.
Trump, meanwhile, repeatedly and visibly called for tax cuts and fundamental tax reform.
Clinton offered no personal income tax rate reduction for any taxpayer. That's right — nobody got an income tax rate cut under Clinton's plan. Not even the lower and middle income households she claimed to care so much about. Trump called for personal income tax rate reduction for people of all income levels.
Clinton offered no corporate income tax rate reduction, either. One of the biggest problems with the tax code is the high corporate rate. This is a rather widely accepted observation. Trump pointed out the uncompetitive 39 percent combined federal-state average corporate income tax rate and called for a dramatic, pro-growth 15 percent rate.
Even Bill Clinton let it slip that the U.S. rate was out of line with other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. But Clinton adviser Neera Tanden proclaimed, "The U.S. has been doing pretty well when it comes to competitiveness." This worldview prevailed in Hillaryland. Clinton's corporate tax plan sought to impose a $275 billion net tax increase.
While Clinton called for a 65 percent Death Tax, Trump called for full Death Tax repeal.
Clinton sought to impose a complex capital gains tax scheme involving six different rates. She wanted to hike the top capital gains tax rate from the current 23.8 percent all the way up to 43.4 percent.
Trump called for repeal of all of Obamacare's tax hikes, including the law's 3.8 percent capital gains hike. Clinton wanted to keep almost all of Obamacare's tax increases intact.
Clinton called for a new tax on stock trading. And an "exit tax." And a $350 billion income tax hike. And a $400-500 billion tax increase, you see, for "restoring basic fairness to our tax code."
The desire to raise taxes was strong with Clinton. In April 2016, Americans for Tax Reform released archival footage not seen since 1993 showing Clinton passionately endorsing a 25 percent national gun tax. Twenty-three years later, in June 2016, ABC's George Stephanopoulos played the footage to her during an interview, and she refused to disavow her gun tax endorsement.
Her tax-hike reflex is so strong that in the midst of battle for the highest office in the land, Clinton blurted out an endorsement of a steep local soda tax in Philadelphia. To the extent the man can pounce, Bernie Sanders pounced, saying, "Frankly, I am very surprised that Secretary Clinton would support this regressive tax after pledging not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000. This proposal clearly violates her pledge."
Speaking of Clinton's $250,000 tax pledge, she poked holes in it repeatedly. She was asked by ABC's Stephanopoulos if it was a "rock solid, 'read my lips' promise." She replied that it was merely a "goal."
The "goal" fudge explains the soda tax endorsement and her on-stage response that she would not veto a payroll tax increase on all workers should it reach her desk as president. It also explains why Campaign Chairman John Podesta felt comfortable cracking open the door to a carbon tax if Clinton was elected.
The tax issue is potent, and it will remain so. To win, Democratic presidential candidates must artificially blur the sharp contrast on taxes to nullify the natural Republican advantage.
Clinton failed, bigly.
That's what happened, Hillary. One of the things that happened, anyway. And thanks to the work of President Trump and the Republican congress, tax reform will become a reality while Clinton is on a book tour.
John Kartch (@JohnKartch) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is vice president of Communications at Americans for Tax Reform.
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