President Donald Trump says it will “be easy” to reform the tax system, at least by comparison to replacing Obamacare. The White House told Axios, the political-news website, that it’s well prepared to roll out a big tax-reform launch in late summer that’s already gaining support from corporate executives and conservatives.
They should take a look at the latest Bloomberg poll. It suggests that a tax law is likely to be as tough to pass as the health-care bill that disintegrated this week in the Senate, and which Trump was calling a piece of cake just five months ago. The poll and other reporting indicates that taxes are no longer a galvanizing political issue, even for Republican voters.
The survey, conducted July 8-12, shows that only 4 percent of Americans see taxes as the most important issue facing the country. By contrast, 35 percent said they considered health care to be the No. 1 issue. Concerns about jobs, terrorism and climate change also ranked far ahead of taxes. A slight majority predicted that Trump would fail to achieve his promise to reform the tax code.
“There’s a fury in the electorate about not getting things done, but there’s no consensus on how to get tax reform done,” said Ann Selzer of the Des Moines, Iowa-based public-opinion firm Selzer & Company Inc., which conducted the poll.
None of the Bloomberg poll numbers are encouraging for the White House. By a margin of 49 percent to 42 percent, respondents said they don’t think cutting corporate taxes will create more jobs.
The focus of any tax initiative, Trump vows, will be on middle-class tax cuts. That sounds politically appealing, but 70 percent of those polled — including two-thirds of Republicans — said they’d oppose tax cuts that would increase the federal deficit. Only 18 percent disagreed.
Higher deficits are certain to result from any Republican tax plan that could pass. Proposals to offset lower tax rates by closing loopholes have been shot down by powerful interest groups. Democrats have no interest in joining forces to pass a Republican plan. In the end, tax cuts may have to advance with little or no reform, meaning potentially huge deficit increases.
The White House and its legislative allies envision passing a tax bill by using a procedure that requires only Republican votes. But under congressional rules, that would mean the bill can’t add to the deficit after a decade and thus the cuts couldn’t be permanent.
Despite claims to the contrary by Trump and his economic aides, the tax plan is expected to disproportionately benefit upper-income Americans; that will make public support harder to come by.
Trump operatives told Axios that the president will barnstorm the country to pitch his tax proposal. Given his extraordinary negatives among voters, it’s not clear if this is a threat or a promise.
In the Bloomberg poll of 1,001 adults, 55 percent said they had a negative overall opinion of Trump, with an almost unprecedented 40 percent rating him very unfavorably. Forty-one percent regarded him positively. By comparison, former President Barack Obama is rated favorably by 61 percent against 36 percent who view him unfavorably.
Support for a tax plan from executives appears unlikely to influence many voters. The Selzer survey shows that Americans, by better than a 3-to-2 margin, have negative attitudes toward corporate executives and Wall Street banks.
A glimmer of possible good news for the White House: The poll finds that the public, by a margin of 55 percent to 41 percent, supports increasing the federal gasoline tax to pay for investments in roads and bridges in their states. After health care restructuring, which is faltering in Congress, and tax reform, which faces high obstacles, the administration says it then will turn to infrastructure.
Albert Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.