New York Times - Economy

A Middle-Class Tax Cut? Americans Aren’t Buying It

In the SurveyMonkey poll, Ms. Brescher, 34, said she did not expect a tax cut under the bill. She later plugged her information into an online calculator, which told her that she could expect a modest tax cut next year. But with the bill’s details changing seemingly every day, Ms. Brescher now doesn’t know what to think.

“I’m a scientist, I know numbers, but I don’t know money numbers,” Ms. Brescher, who holds a master’s degree in epidemiology, said in a follow-up interview. “I don’t have the patience or really the skill set to read the tax bill for myself.”

Ms. Brescher’s confusion is hardly surprising. Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans promised a broad-based tax cut, particularly for the middle class. The emerging bill, however, is a web of complex provisions that would cut taxes for some people, raise them for others and have different effects in different years. Even families that look similar on paper could be affected differently depending on where they live and how they earn their money.

“It comes down to a bunch of idiosyncratic factors,” said Mark Mazur, a Treasury Department official in the Obama administration who now directs the Tax Policy Center. “You really have to parse through the details.”

Sentiment about the bill seems strongly colored by feelings about the president. Backing remains strong among supporters of Mr. Trump: 80 percent of them say they approve of the bill. Among those who don’t approve of Mr. Trump, the figure is only 10 percent.

Geoffrey Cantley, an Army recruiter in rural Virginia, said he didn’t know whether he’d get a tax cut or a tax increase under the bill. But he said Mr. Trump’s efforts to simplify the tax code would enable him to file without a tax preparer, saving money. And he said Mr. Trump deserved the benefit of the doubt.

“I don’t think he’s getting a fair shake in the coverage he’s getting,” Mr. Cantley said. “I think the economy’s doing a lot better.”

Republicans said this week that public doubts would fall away once the bill becomes law and tax cuts begin appearing in paychecks. They cited polls from 1986, showing that most Americans did not feel that year’s tax bill would help them, either.

“Whatever the polling data is that’s out there today doesn’t recognize just how powerful this bill is going to be to put more money in the pockets of hard-working families,” said Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the majority whip.

Recent history suggests that view is overly optimistic. In 2004, a New York Times/CBS News poll found that fewer than one in five Americans believed they had been helped by President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, which had, in fact, been designed to benefit all workers. Polls after the 2009 stimulus bill, which cut taxes across the board for workers, showed many Americans did not believe they had benefited.

“Nothing in my experience suggests that the views people have about the tax cuts — whether justified or not — will change after they start actually being affected by them,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard Kennedy School economist who advised President Obama during and after the 2009 stimulus bill.

Samuel Bruce, a financial analyst in Keller, Tex., has followed the tax bill closely but still isn’t sure whether he would benefit. A father of two, he would be able to claim the higher child tax credit, but as the owner of his own home and a rental property, he said the limit on property-tax deductions could hurt him.

Still, Mr. Bruce said he was more concerned with the broader economic impact. He said he doubted that most businesses would pass tax cuts on to workers, and he worried about how the deficit would affect his daughters, now 7 and 8, when they grow up.

“Politicians are all about ‘take care of today,’” Mr. Bruce said. “I’m more worried about the future, really.”

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