On February 11, the White House released President Donald Trump’s fiscal year (FY) 2021 budget proposal, which outlines his administration’s priorities for extending certain tax cuts and increasing IRS funding. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified before the Senate Finance Committee (SFC) on February 12 regarding the FY 2021 budget proposal.
Extension of TCJA’s Individual Tax Cuts
Trump’s FY 2021 budget proposal indicates that tax cuts for individuals and passthrough entities under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) ( P.L. 115-97), which are set to expire at the end of 2025, would be extended. This extension is estimated to cost $1.4 trillion over 10 years, and is reportedly being used as a “placeholder” in the budget for Trump’s forthcoming “Tax Cuts 2.0” plan.
Trump’s budget proposal also calls for a $1 trillion infrastructure package, although funding details remain scarce at this time. In January, House Democrats unveiled their infrastructure proposal, which also lacked funding details.
Additionally, Trump’s budget proposes $12 billion in base funding for the IRS “to modernize the taxpayer experience and ensure that the IRS can fulfill its core tax filing season responsibilities.” The budget proposal would boost IRS funding from currently enacted levels of $11.5 billion.
Further, the budget would provide $300 million to continue the IRS’s modernization efforts. Specifically, the budget proposal states that IRS funding would help to:
- digitize more IRS communications to taxpayers, so they can respond quickly and accurately to IRS questions;
- create a call-back function for certain IRS telephone lines, so taxpayers do not need to wait on hold to speak with an IRS representative; and
- make it easier for taxpayers to make and schedule payments online.
“The Trump Economy stands firm on the proven pro-growth pillars of tax cuts, deregulation, energy independence, and better trade deals,” the budget proposal states. However, Democratic lawmakers, while highlighting criticisms of the TCJA, are all but promising Trump’s budget request will not become law.
“Repealing incentives to reduce carbon emissions will hinder our fight against climate change and deter the kind of innovation our planet needs. And extending misguided tax cuts for the richest Americans will only deepen the deficit and further concentrate wealth at the top,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said in a statement after the budget proposal was released.
“It [Trump’s budget proposal] doubles down on the failed 2017 GOP tax law, extending expiring provisions and adding $1.5 trillion more to debt over the last six years of the budget window. Most of this extension’s tax breaks go to the richest one-fifth of households,” House Budget Committee Democrats said in a committee report during the week of February 10.
However, it is worth noting that Trump’s budget proposal is merely an annual starting point for budget negotiations as Congress has the “power of the purse.” Additionally, many of Trump’s requests, particularly those that include extending TCJA tax cuts, would have little chance of successfully clearing the currently Democratic-controlled House.
SFC Hearing; Wyden Bill
Secretary Mnuchin spent much of the SFC hearing praising and defending the TCJA and Treasury’s implementation of the GOP law. “Tax cuts, regulatory reform, and better trade deals are improving the lives of hardworking Americans,” Mnuchin told lawmakers. “Unemployment remains historically low at 3.6 percent and is at or near all-time lows for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and veterans. The unemployment rate for women recently reached its lowest point in nearly 70 years,” he added.
Likewise, SFC Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa praised the TCJA and pointed to the same statistics mentioned by Mnuchin as evidence of its success. “Statistics like these show the tax reform is a success. The Treasury Department’s work to implement the new tax law has been an important part of that success,” Grassley said.
However, SFC ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., did not mince words when criticizing Mnuchin’s leadership of Treasury, the TCJA, and related regulations. “It sure looks like corporate special interests are going to make off with new loopholes worth $100 billion in addition to their outlandish share of the original $2 trillion Trump tax law,” Wyden said during his opening statement. “When people say the tax code is rigged and the Trump administration has made it worse, what I’ve described is a textbook case of what they are talking about.”
In that vein, Wyden introduced a bill on February 12 which would block Treasury’s “exception to the new tax on foreign earnings that allows multinationals to essentially choose the lowest available tax rate,” as noted in Wyden’s press release. During the hearing, Wyden accused Treasury of creating a new “corporate tax loophole.” Generally, Wyden’s bill would amend the tax code to clarify that high-taxed amounts are excluded from tested income for purposes of determining global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI) only if such amounts would be foreign base company income or insurance income.
Recently, Democrats have been criticizing Treasury for proposing related GILTI regulations based on corporate interests, but Mnuchin vehemently denied that claim. “Our job is to implement the legislation, not to make the legislation,” he told lawmakers during the hearing. “Our job has been to implement that part of the tax code consistent with the intent and as prescribed by the law and that is what we have done.”
Energy Tax Policy
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, in a February 11 letter to Senator Grassley, nearly 30 Democratic senators called for prompt committee action on energy tax policy. “Despite numerous opportunities, including in the recent tax extenders package, the Finance Committee has failed to take action on the dozens of energy tax proposals pending before it,” the senators wrote in the letter led by Wyden. “Energy tax incentives have played a key part in shaping U.S. energy policy for more than 100 years, and members have shown clear interest in re-examining that ongoing role.”