To much fanfare, mostly out of president Trump, on Thursday the House passed their version of the tax bill 227-205 along party lines, with 13 Republicans opposing. The passage of the House bill was met with muted market reaction. The Senate version of the tax reform is currently going through the Senate Finance Committee for additional amendments and should be ready for a full floor debate in a few weeks. While some, like Goldman, give corporate tax cuts (if not broad tax reform), an 80% chance of eventually becoming law in the first quarter of 2018, others like UBS and various prominent skeptics, do not see the House and Senate plans coherently merging into a survivable proposal.
Indeed, while momentum seemingly is building for the tax plan, some prominent analysts believe there are several issues down the road that could trip up or even stall a comprehensive tax plan from passing the Congress, the chief of which is how to combine the House and Senate plans into one viable bill.
How are the two plans different?
Below we present a side by side comparison of the two plans from Bank of America, which notes that the House and the Senate are likely to pass different tax plans with areas of disagreement (see table below). This means that the two chambers will need to form a conference committee to hash out the differences. There are three major friction points:
- the repeal of the state and local tax deductions (SALT),
- capping mortgage interest deductions and
- the delay in the corporate tax cut.
The House seems strongly opposed to fully repealing SALT and delaying the corporate tax cuts and the Senate could push back on changing the mortgage interest deductions. Finding compromise on these issues without disturbing other parts of the plan while keeping the price tag under the $1.5tn over 10 years could be challenging.
Here are the key sticking points per BofA:
- Skinny ACA repeal: The repeal of the individual mandate is back on the table. It would free up approximately $300bn in revenue to pay for the tax plan. But this likely means no Democratic Senator will support the bill. This could prove costly as the Republicans can only afford to lose 2 votes and several Republican Senators are already on the fence on the tax plan.
- Byrd Rule means tax plan might not hatch: Reconciliation directives allow the tax plan to add $1.5tn to the deficit in the first 10 years (See appendix for breakdown of the cost of each plan). However, rules in the Senate state that any bill passed under reconciliation has to be revenue neutral beyond the 10 year budget window. Given that the Republicans are hoping to make the corporate tax cuts permanent, it would mean that they would need to find additional revenue in the out years while sunsetting all other tax cut provisions (e.g. personal tax cuts). This will mean the personal tax code at best will revert back to current law or at worst roll back the cuts and preserve the repeal of the deduction which would amount to a tax increase on households after ten years. Currently, the Senate plan would let reduction in the personal tax rates, expansions of the standard deduction and child tax credit and other provisions expire after 2025. The court of public opinion could threaten the tax plan.
And while it remains to be seen if tax reform will pass the Senate, or like Obamacare repeal, it will get shot down by the like of McCain (and perhaps Corker), another key question, is whether the US even needs tax reform at this point - the Fed certainly could do without the added inflationary pressure - and whereas former Goldman COO and Trump's econ advisor, Gary Cohn certainly thinks so, his former boss, Lloyd Blankfein disagrees. So does Bank of America, which maintains that at this stage of the business cycle, tax cuts are not needed to sustain the current expansion. Nevertheless, BofA concedes the passage of a comprehensive tax plan would likely lead to a short term boost to growth which would translate to further declines in the unemployment rate and higher inflation.
Then, as the economy begins to heat up, the Fed will likely lean against the economy by implementing a faster hiking cycle than currently projected, which will ultimately spark the next market crash, recession and financial crisis. Ironically, the seed of Trump's own destruction would be planted by his biggest political victory yet (assuming tax reform passes, of course).
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As a bonus, here is a simulation BofA ran using the Fed's FRB/US model to calculate the potential costs of the tax plans. BofA ran its simulations assuming model consistent expectations for all sectors of the economy and using the inertial Taylor rule to set the path of the federal funds rate: "o simulate the impact of the fiscal stimulus brought on by the tax cuts, we make the fiscal setting exogenous during the first 10 year period and adjust the path for corporate and personal income taxes to take into account the government revenue effects from the tax plan."
Costs aside, to get a sense of the economic impact from the two tax plans, BofA similarly models the two plans' outcomes using the FRB/US macroeconomic model. The simulation results suggest under the House plan, the US would see a boost to aggregate demand as growth would be approximately 0.4pp higher relative to baseline in 2018 and 0.3pp higher in 2019. Better aggregate demand would reduce the unemployment rate by 0.3pp by 2019 and put upward pressure on inflation. These growth and price dynamics would lead the FOMC to raise rates an additional 1 to 2 hikes over the next two years. The economic impact from the Senate plan would be slightly more modest but in the same ballpark as the House plan. Under the Senate plan, the model predicts growth to be approximately 0.3pp higher in both 2018 and 2019 and similar dynamics for the unemployment rate and inflation as seen in the House plan, leading the FOMC to tighten quicker than the current baseline path.
There is also an "alternative" scenario where we a watered down version of the tax plan passes (i.e. modest tax cuts for middle-income households and a corporate tax cut near 25-28% that is deficit increasing by $600bn-$800bn on a static basis). Under the "alternative" scenario, we would see approximately half the economic impact that is seen under the House plan. Given that such a plan would likely only generate modest inflationary pressures, the Fed's response likely would be relatively muted and it would likely stay on its baseline path.