Billion tax break, If you repeal the estate tax, as Trump wants to do, the Trump family itself gets a $5 billion tax break
Even as Hillary Clinton was pronounced the winner of the first presidential debate, pundits rated its first 15 minutes as a win for Donald Trump. Billion tax break the day after, the initial Trump-Clinton exchanges about trade and taxes largely vanished from the discussion, as Clinton’s campaign made former Miss Universe Alicia Machado available for interviews on how Trump had shamed her for gaining weight.
But for Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Clinton’s opening answers were the start of a promising, populist case against Trump, the kind he had tried to make throughout the Democratic primaries.
“I’ve said for a long time that the media focuses too much on personality,” Sanders said. “I think what Clinton tried to do last night was the focus of Trump’s trickle-down economic theory. If you repeal the estate tax, as Trump wants to do, the Trump family itself gets a $5 billion tax fault. The Walton family gets a $50 billion tax break.”
Clinton’s economic rhetoric at Hofstra University in New York was arguably more progressive than anything said by Democratic candidates in the past 20 years of presidential debates. In 2012, in his widely panned initial debate with Mitt Romney, President Obama said that the Republican believed that “if we cut taxes, skewed towards the wealthy, and roll back regulations, that we’ll be better off.” Moments later, he clarified that he was trying to be business-friendly but reasonable: “Governor Romney and I both agree that our corporate tax rate is too high, so I want to lower it, particularly for manufacturing, taking it down to 25 percent.”
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Four years earlier, as the Great Recession bore down, Obama emphasized that he favored “a tax cut for 95 percent of working families.” Four years before that, John F. Kerry attacked President George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts “for the wealthiest,” but promised not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $200,000 per year. In doing so, Kerry and Obama were following the path cut by the original New Democrats, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore.
Hillary Clinton took a path closer to Sanders’s. Her call to “raise the minimum wage” was the first mention of that policy in a presidential debate since 2004, when Kerry proposed a progressive increase to $7 per hour. (It was raised to $7.25 by Obama and a Democratic Congress in 2009.) Clinton’s profit-sharing proposal — “if you help create the profits you should be able to share in them, not just the executives at the top” — was the first mention of such an idea in any debate. The same was true when Clinton mentioned “paid family leave, earned sick days … affordable child care and debt-free college.”
Clinton’s grapple with Trump over tax rates also represented a shift, for both parties. In 2012, Romney rejected the (accurate) assessment that his tax cuts would largely benefit the wealthy. “[What] the president describes as a top-down, cut taxes for the rich,” Romney said, “[is] not what I’m going to do.” (Billion tax break)
Trump was not so circumspect. “I’m really calling for major jobs because the wealthy are going to create tremendous jobs,” he said, briskly describing the supply-side theory of taxation. “They’re going to expand their companies. They’re going to do a tremendous job.”
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Clinton’s answers, and her specific goading of Trump answered a progressive worry that boiled over in an article by BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer. In emails hacked and released online, strategists at the Democratic National Committee worried that Clinton was framing Trump as a uniquely offensive figure, but not a typical Republican. Democrats who expected Clinton to attack Trump from two angles — as both a boor and a plutocrat with policies aligned with congressional Republicans — watched both the Clinton campaign and the Priorities USA Super PAC go after Trump on his gaffes.
She seemed to correct course Monday night, especially after she baited Trump into saying he might have paid no net income taxes because he was “smart” and understood the system.
“What Trump is trying to do is pretend that he’s some kind of champion of working people,” Sanders said. “How hypocritical can you be to talk about your concerns about outsourcing, but to use a foreign work for all of your products? If he was so concerned about outsourcing, he might start with himself. But that’s Republican ideology. It is Republican ideology that you give tax breaks to the rich, and tax breaks for billionaires as they throw people out of work. When he put together his economic team, half of the people on it were Wall Street executives.”
Sanders, who is returning to the campaign trail for Clinton, was using his own speeches to promote her economic agenda. What he could do more credibly than the nominee was attack trade deals and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Sanders had opposed every major trade deal; Clinton’s previous description of TPP as “the gold standard” haunted her, and gave Trump one of his few strong comeback opportunities.
If the issue were to come up again, Sanders hoped Clinton would explain it clearly: She found religion on trade.
“I recommend she reiterate that during the campaign she learned that most working people in this country do not believe that unfettered free trade is good for them,” Sanders said. “To her credit, she changed her position. She’s opposed to the TPP coming to the floor of Congress.”