President Donald Trump on Wednesday will begin in earnest the effort of selling a sweeping overhaul of the tax code, pitching Republican plans as a boon for the middle class ahead of members of Congress’ return to Washington.
But Americans who hear his speech in Springfield, Missouri, will learn little about what a new tax code will look like. GOP congressional leaders and the White House have yet to reach an agreement on the details of the tax plan and proposals are expected to go through congressional committees before the plan takes its final shape.
Trump’s populist-aimed tax reform speech will seek to blunt anticipated Democratic criticism of the proposed reforms, which experts have said will disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Americans.
Wednesday’s speech is expected to be the first in a series of public events the President will hold to crank up the public pressure on Congress to get behind his tax-reform goals. Trump’s focus will be on tax reform’s benefits for middle-class Americans and small businesses and to make that pitch he will draw on Springfield’s place in history as the birthplace of Route 66, known as the “Main Street of America.”
Trump’s attempt to frame the debate comes as he and his administration have raised the need for tax reform in fits and starts since the early days of his presidency. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin initially set the end of August as a timetable for passage of tax reform efforts and, in April, the administration released several topline numbers of its proposal. But the White House and Congress have failed to sync up in their ambitions for reform amid disagreements and as lawmakers remained stuck on failed efforts to repeal Obamacare.
Now, the White House faces a jam-packed fall legislative calendar that includes deadlines to avert a government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling — and now added pressure to pass a disaster assistance package for recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Trump’s attempt to turn the national conversation to tax reform comes as the spotlight is firmly fixed on the disaster still unfolding in Texas and Louisiana, where hurricane damage and flooding continues to sending tens of thousands of people from their homes.
Trump made his first trip to Texas on Tuesday and is expected to return to the area on Saturday. A White House official said Trump would again address the disaster during his tax reform remarks.
Trump’s first attempt at applying the bully pulpit to his tax reform push also comes on the heels of internal strife over the President’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, which prompted Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn — who along with Mnuchin has helmed tax reform efforts at the White House — to publicly rebuke the White House’s response to the white supremacist rally there.
“I believe this administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities,” Cohn told the Financial Times in a striking rebuke of a president by one of his top advisers.
Still, Cohn said he had decided to remain at the White House and administration officials have said he has remained focused on the tax reform push.
The Trump administration outlined the broad strokes of its proposal for tax reform in April, proposing slashing the number of tax brackets from seven to three and bringing the corporate tax rate down to 15%. It also called for income tax brackets to be set at 10%, 25% and 35% — the latter for the wealthiest Americans, down from the current 39.6% rate.
But since the administration released that outline, it agreed to give the reins on tax reform to Congress — working with leaders as part of the “Group of Six” to come up with a single Republican tax reform plan that leaders hope will earn broad support in Congress.
Still, Trump is expected to play a much more public role in driving support for tax reform, taking to the road more frequently to hammer the benefits of tax reform than he did during Republicans’ failed effort to repeal Obamacare.
Tax reform was at the core of Trump’s economic proposals during his campaign and aides said it’s an issue Trump feels he can effectively pitch to the public.