American tax reformWorry about the Republicans’ tax bill—and how it was passed

SOME political theorists argue that the law draws legitimacy not just from voting, but also from public debate before legislation is passed. In voting through a tax-reform bill on December 2nd, Republicans in Congress have tested this principle to destruction. The bill, like most, has its strengths and its weaknesses, but Republicans have rushed it through disregarding the value of consistency and evidence. Their success will weigh on the quality of American government.

The Senate’s bill is broadly similar to one that passed in the House of Representatives in November. It would slash the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% (albeit a year later than the House bill). Taxes for unincorporated businesses and individuals would fall substantially. The personal exemption, which reduces a household’s taxable income in accordance with its size, would be replaced with a much higher standard deduction, the flat amount that can be earned tax-free. The child tax credit would also rise. To raise money, the bill curbs some deductions, such as those for debt interest and state levies.

Lawmakers reconciling the bills confront three main differences. First, the Senate proposal leaves the deduction for mortgage interest mostly intact; the House wisely wants to curb it. Second, whereas the House would abolish the estate (inheritance) tax entirely, the Senate would keep it. It is right to do so, though it would double the threshold at which the tax kicks in, from $22.4m (for couples). Third, the Senate has tacked on a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate, a fine for Americans who do not buy health insurance even if they can afford it.

One test of the final bill is its effect on the economy. On the one hand it would limit deductions in favour of cuts to marginal tax rates—a worthwhile reform. On the other it will increase inequality, largely because business-owners tend to be rich, and it will add a trillion dollars in public borrowing by 2027,…

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