Fact check: Trump and the not-so-middle-class tax cut
By Calvin Woodward and Josh Boak
Nov 06, 2017 at 5:08 PM
WASHINGTON — Republicans can't say it enough: the tax plan on the table is for the middle class. But the numbers tell the tale of a tax cut tilted to the rich.
Over the past week, taxes, terrorism and the Russia investigation provided plenty of fodder for iffy claims by President Donald Trump and others.
First, the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election produced indictments and a guilty plea reaching into Trump's campaign team. Then eight people died in New York City in what authorities called a terrorist attack by a man acting in the name of the Islamic State group. Trump opened an Asia trip after House Republicans came out with a tax overhaul that, if successful, could mark Trump's first major legislative achievement after a series of health care flops.
A look back at the rhetoric:
Trump: "It's a tax bill for middle class; it's a tax bill for jobs, it's going to bring a lot of companies in; and it's a tax bill for business, which is going to create the jobs." — meeting with business leaders Tuesday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan: "The focus is on middle-class tax relief. The focus is on directing that tax relief to the people in the middle and the people who are trying to get there. And that is why we put our emphasis on that tax relief for those people who are in the middle." — news conference by House Republicans on Thursday.
The facts: Let there be no doubt the middle class is a politically glorified group. Ryan can't talk about the "middle" enough; GOP leaders mentioned middle-income earners 14 times at the news conference. But the tax plan is geared to companies and wealthy people, leaving some in the middle class bound to pay higher taxes, some lower.
How that crapshoot plays out depends on more than income.
The plan promises tax savings next year of $1,182 for a typical household of four with a gross income of $59,000, leaving the family's tax bill at $400.
But the proposal's conflicting provisions and phase-outs of certain benefits suggest that taxes could rise for some middle-class earners over time. Middle-income people in states with high state income taxes or who have many children, high medical bills or heavy student debt are particularly at risk of a bigger tax hit. Others may benefit modestly from the lower tax rates and revamped credits and deductions.
The big numbers tell part of the tale. Of the $1.5 trillion the plan is designed to cost over 10 years, $850 billion goes to companies, according to the government's Joint Committee on Taxation. Almost all of the savings for families and individuals come from the repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax and the Estate Tax — changes that benefit the wealthy.
Trump tweets Wednesday: "The terrorist came into our country through what is called the 'Diversity Visa Lottery Program,' a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based." "'Senator Chuck Schumer helping to import Europes problems' said Col. Tony Shaffer. We will stop this craziness! @foxandfriends"
The facts: The lottery program is no more the creation ("beauty") of the New York Democrat than it is of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch and many other Republicans who helped bring it into law in 1990. It had bipartisan support, breezed through the Senate on an 89-8 vote and was signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush.
The suspect from Uzbekistan who is accused of the deadly New York attack entered the U.S. legally in 2010 under the lottery and Trump wants to eliminate it. Schumer supported getting rid of it three years ago as part of an immigration overhaul that failed in Congress.
Trump also misplaced Uzbekistan in Europe when he referred to importing Europe's problems. It's in Asia. The State Department, though, lists Uzbekistan and other former Soviet republics under Europe in its lottery. The program lets 50,000 people in a year from countries with low emigration rates to the U.S.
Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said Trump was not really holding Schumer culpable in the attack.
Trump re-election ad: Says health insurance premiums are skyrocketing "while Democrats in Washington, D.C., block a better plan to repeal and replace Obamacare once and for all — obstructing our president just to score political points with the radical left."
The facts: It's a diversion to describe Democrats as being responsible for the GOP's failure to repeal and replace Barack Obama's health care law. Trump's party, which controls the House and the Senate, had a chance to pass a new health law without a single Democratic vote in the summer.
Recent health care plans backed by the White House stalled chiefly because Republican senators such as Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona opposed specific fixes.
It's true premiums are rising, but that's not entirely due to the health law. The consulting firm Avalere Health says premiums for the most popular Affordable Care Act plans are going up an average of 34 percent and the Trump administration's actions are contributing to the price increases by adding instability to underlying problems of the health law's marketplaces.
Trump tweet Tuesday: "Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar."
The facts: George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying about his Russian interactions, was not as obscure as Trump makes him out to be. Trump named Papadopoulos to his foreign policy advisory council in March 2016, where he joined a short list of experts helping the candidate with international affairs.
"Excellent guy," Trump told The Washington Post at the time. Trump also tweeted a photo of his March 31 advisory council meeting, with Papadopoulos among several advisers at the president's table. Jeff Sessions, then a senator and now attorney general, was helping Trump's campaign and attended at least two meetings of the advisory council with Papadopoulos also there.
In April 2016, Papadopoulos met a professor with connections to the Russian government for breakfast in London and was told Moscow had "dirt" helpful to Trump, namely Hillary Clinton emails. Investigators said Papadopoulos emailed a Trump campaign policy adviser the next day, saying, "Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right."
Investigators said his position with the campaign, though not senior, was significant to those who wanted to pass on helpful information. The allegations unsealed Monday state that "the professor only took interest in defendant PAPADOPOULOS because of his status with the Campaign."
The adviser met later with more apparent Russian intermediaries.
Altogether, this episode provided evidence in the first criminal case connecting Trump's team to Russian interests.
Trump tweet Monday: "Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign."
The facts: Not true, according to the indictment against Manafort, who was Trump's campaign chairman for months last year, and against Manafort associate Rick Gates.
They are charged with criminal activities that go back to 2006 but extend to February of this year. The charges do not refer to Manafort's activities with the campaign but rather accuse him of laundering money and conspiratorial acts before, during and after he was campaign chairman.
Manafort and Gates face 12 counts, which do deal largely with activities from 2006 to 2015, before Manafort joined the campaign in March 2016.
But both are charged with conspiring together and with others to knowingly and intentionally defraud and commit crimes against the U.S. from 2006 to this year.
And both are charged with conspiring together to make false statements and conceal crimes against the U.S., and to causing others to do so, from November 2016 to February 2017.
The indictment emerged from the broad investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. It does not go to the heart of that matter.