It’s no surprise that the House Republicans’ tax bill includes the eventual repeal of the estate tax, a long-held GOP goal. But The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler highlights an unexpectedly generous aspect of the current bill: It “allows the beneficiaries of estates to not pay capital gains taxes on the increase in value of assets held by the estates. That has not been a feature of most previous estate-tax bills.”
Currently, estates face a federal tax if they’re valued at more than $5.49 million for individuals or almost $11 million for couples. But, for tax purposes, the value of assets passed on to heirs gets “stepped-up” or reset to their value at the time of death. Kessler’s example: “Imagine a home that had been purchased for $250,000 but was now worth $1 million. The ‘stepped-up basis’ would be $1 million. If the heirs sold the house for $1.1 million, they would only owe capital-gains tax on the $100,000 difference, not the $850,000 difference from the original purchase price.”
The GOP bill repeals the estate tax, but also keeps the stepped-up basis — a seemingly small detail that creates a huge tax shelter. It means that heirs of large estates would save tens of billions of dollars a year when they sell assets that have appreciated in value over time — or, as Kessler puts it, that the bill will allow “tens of billions of untapped capital gains to remain beyond the reach of the U.S. government.”
Politico’s Tim Alberta and Rachael Bade drop a blockbuster: “Despite several landmark legislative wins this year, and a better-than-expected relationship with President Donald Trump, Ryan has made it known to some of his closest confidants that this will be his final term as speaker. … He would like to serve through Election Day 2018 and retire ahead of the next Congress. This would give Ryan a final legislative year to chase his second white whale, entitlement reform, while using his unrivaled fundraising prowess to help protect the House majority—all with the benefit of averting an ugly internecine power struggle during election season.”
Speculation has been swirling that Ryan could step down once “he’s harpooned his personal white whale of tax reform,” as HuffPost put it.
When asked at his weekly press conference whether he’ll be quitting anytime soon, Ryan chuckled and said, “I’m not, no.”
The finance ministers of Europe’s five largest economies — Germany, France, the U.K., Italy and Spain — warned that the Republican tax plan could have “a major distortive impact” on international trade and may violate international treaties. "The inclusion of certain less conventional international tax provisions could contravene the U.S.'s double taxation treaties and may risk having a major distortive impact on international trade," the ministers wrote in a letter to Mnuchin.
Politico reports: “The White House is quietly preparing a sweeping executive order that would mandate a top-to-bottom review of the federal programs on which millions of poor Americans rely. And GOP lawmakers are in the early stages of crafting legislation that could make it more difficult to qualify for those programs. … The president is expected to sign the welfare executive order as soon as January, according to multiple administration officials, with an eye toward making changes to health care, food stamps, housing and veterans programs, not just traditional welfare payments.”
President Trump signed a short-term continuing resolution today to fund the federal government through Friday, December 22.
Bloomberg called the maneuver “a monumental piece of can kicking,” which is no doubt the case, but at least you’ll be able to visit your favorite national park over the weekend.
Here's to small victories!
The Republican tax cuts won’t do much for economic growth, former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan told CNBC Wednesday, but they will damage the country’s fiscal situation while creating the threat of stagflation. "This is a terrible fiscal situation we've got ourselves into," Greenspan said. "The administration is doing tax cuts and a spending decrease, but he's doing them in the wrong order. What we need right now is to focus totally on reducing the debt."