TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, April 13, 2017

NY Times:  Democrats See Opening In Tax Reform Fight — Trump’s Own Deductions

New York Times, Democrats See Opening in Tax Overhaul Fight: Trump’s Own Deductions:

When Donald J. Trump was crafting his campaign tax plan last year, one of his top economic advisers proposed an idea that would have made it harder for real estate moguls to use mountains of debt to make deals. Mr. Trump, who made his fortune as a property developer and earned the nickname “the king of debt,” scoffed at the suggestion.

“He hated that idea,” said Stephen Moore, the Heritage Foundation economist who counseled Mr. Trump during the campaign.

The proposal to scale back interest deductions for companies did not make the cut.

As President Trump focuses his attention on overhauling America’s tax code, he has considered turning to the other side of the aisle to reach a bipartisan deal. But an obstacle has already surfaced, dimming the chances that a “grand bargain” will be achieved: Democrats are sounding the alarm that reshaping the tax code presents Mr. Trump’s biggest conflict of interest yet.

A tax code overhaul gives Democrats the chance to again bring up Mr. Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns and to press for details of how his business deals are financed. That focus could also affect which tax code items, such as interest deductibility, are included in the overhaul. ...

“If the tax reform proposals start to have discussions of whether or not to drop certain deductions for the real estate business, or to expand those, that now becomes the entire matter of tax reform,” said Richard Painter, who was President George W. Bush’s ethics lawyer. Referring to Mr. Trump, Mr. Painter added: “He cannot be an honest arbiter.” ...

Tax provisions that have proved costly to Mr. Trump could be on the table. Last month, a portion of Mr. Trump’s 2005 tax return showed that he paid $31 million as a result of the alternative minimum tax that year. Mr. Trump has called for the elimination of that tax rule.

The opportunity to use Mr. Trump as a weapon against a tax overhaul could distort the debate in other ways. After the fight over the “border adjustment” tax, the most contentious topic is the deductibility of net interest expenses, the idea Mr. Moore had unsuccessfully proposed to Mr. Trump.

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