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IDEMA: Are the impending tax cuts a Christmas present?

• Dec 20, 2017 at 2:15 PM

President Trump is selling tax cuts as a Christmas present to every American. Really? People with modest incomes will notice little benefit, but those in the top 1 percent will reap the lion's share of the tax cut money.

Abolishing the estate tax would especially benefit families like the president's own, perhaps saving his heirs a billion dollars if Trump is truly as wealthy as he claims. If he released his tax returns, then we could accurately evaluate how a tax cut bill would favor him and his family.

My main concern with any tax cuts at this point in our history is that we have a national debt over $20 trillion and growing by the day. The most conservative estimate of how much tax cuts would increase our national debt is $1.5 trillion, and most economists argue that this figure is way too modest. This is generational theft!

I have two grandchildren. I am saddened that my generation, the baby boom generation, is robbing them of their financial future. President George W. Bush signed into law large tax cuts, and the national debt doubled, from roughly $5 trillion to $10 trillion. President Obama made permanent the Bush tax cuts and our national debt doubled again to $20 trillion.

By the way, President Reagan's tax cuts ended up tripling the national debt, but the amount of money was far less than the debt under Bush and Obama. When President Reagan took office, our national debt was around $700 billion. So, the generational theft has accelerated.

I think some of the tax cut ideas are excellent. Limits on mortgage interest deductions and write-offs on property taxes seems like a good idea. Lowering the corporate tax rate makes industry more competitive. But why can't our politicians cut spending to offset any tax cuts?

Here is one small example: The costs of providing travel and security for President Trump and his family on various trips, especially weekend jaunts to Mar-a-Lago, have exceeded $11 million a month. Wouldn't it set a wonderful example of fiscal responsibility if the president cut back on his weekend trips to his properties?

The CEOs of 70 of the largest U.S. health-care companies cumulatively have earned $9.8 billion in the seven years since the Affordable Care Act was passed, and their compensation has grown 11 percent a year. Do these people need tax cuts? The GOP wants to reward its donor class, as the party freely admits. So the CEOs of America will benefit the most from any purposed tax cut plan at a time of growing national debt. Is this fiscally responsible?

The GOP, it seems, only complains of deficits when the Democrats are in power, but the reverse is also true. The Democrats were silent about our growing national debt under President Obama.

Besides generational theft, the other moral issue that should be debated by all of us is this: How much is enough? How much money do I need to be happy? Research by Nobel-winning economist Angus Deaton has shown that money stops adding significantly to people's happiness at an annual salary of $75,000. We can agree or disagree with that finding, but few would argue that adding millions to one's net worth — when that already adds up into the millions — makes a person happier.

Christmas is a time of the year to reflect upon our blessings, which I think most of us would define in terms of those we love and are loved by — not money or stuff. Christmas is also the time of the year when we should be thinking of sharing what we have with people less fortunate than ourselves and giving to those organizations that truly help the most needy, such as the Mel Trotter Mission in downtown Grand Rapids, The Salvation Army and the outreach programs in your church, if they in fact have such programs. This is not the time of the year to give tax cuts to those who do not need them as the expense of my grandchildren and yours.

— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune community columnist

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