TaxWatch: Biden’s tax hikes for the rich are unlikely to get passed by Congress. But another date looms: Trump-era tax cuts for the wealthy end in 2025


For five years, most Americans have seen lower income-tax rates and tapped a bigger standard deduction, but without congressional action before the end of 2025, the rules could still revert to levels set long before the pandemic blindsided households and inflation raged.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden is unveiling a budget that details his latest attempts to tax the top of the income ladder. That includes a plan to raise the rate on the taxes connected to Medicare for households making over $400,000. Other expected proposals could include a billionaire minimum tax and quadrupling the current 1% stock buyback tax — two ideas he’s touted.

There’s slim chance Biden’s tax-hike proposals become law anytime soon, considering the Republican majority in the House. It’s about political messages ahead of the 2024 presidential race, according to observers.

Trump’s tax cuts for the rich will soon come to an end

But the sun will soon set on Trump-era tax rules related to marginal rates, standard deduction amounts, the child tax credit and other provisions. These rules were part of Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a law overhauling income-tax rules for individuals, estates, small businesses and corporations.

“I view the 2025 expiring tax provisions as this hurricane we already see on the radar and it’s slowly approaching,” said Jennifer Acuña of KPMG, the tax, advisory and accounting firm. Acuña is a principal at the firm’s federal legislative and regulatory services group in its Washington National Tax practice.

‘I view the 2025 expiring tax provisions as this hurricane we already see on the radar and it’s slowly approaching.’

— Jennifer Acuña, principal of KPMG’s Washington National Tax practice

“We’re talking about middle-class taxpayers across the board who are going to be affected by this,” said Acuña who, as a top lawyer in the Senate Finance Committee, helped draft the 2017 law.

What happens when the TCJA provisions expire in 2025 will spark a new round of debates between the Republicans and Democrats on tax breaks for the rich, said Jorge Castro of the law firm Miller & Chevalier, and co-lead of the firm’s tax policy practice. “You are going to see a lot back and forth beginning this year,” he added.

Erica York, senior economist and research manager at the Tax Foundation, a right-leaning tax-policy think tank, added, “2025 is going to going down as a very messy year for tax policy.”

Republican lawmakers have been introducing laws in an attempt to make the Trump-era tax-law changes permanent. One bill, the TJCA Permanency Act, has over 70 co-sponsors in the House.

Portions of the Trump tax cuts have lightened the tax burden for broad arrays of households, said Steve Wamhoff, federal policy director at the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. “The higher you go up the income ladder, the more you get from making these tax cuts permanent,” he said.

The White House and congressional budget proposals should all be talking about these expiring provisions and how to pay for them if they are being extended, said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

“Budgets that ignore these expirations are likely to paint an overly rosy outlook, as extensions without offsets would dramatically worsen the fiscal outlook,” she said in a statement.  

What happens next will hinge on who is president in 2025, which party controls Congress and how heavy a role the country’s debts will play, experts say. Some expiring provisions could offer paths for agreement. For others, it’s an open question.

Here’s a look:

Standard deduction

The standard deduction nearly doubled under the 2017 law. In 2018, the standard deduction increased to $12,000 from $6,500 for individual filers and jumped to $24,000 from $13,000 for married couples filing jointly.

The deduction is updated for inflation annually. As a result, for the income-tax returns people are filing now, the standard deduction is worth $12,950 for individuals and $25,900 for joint filers.

As the standard deduction went up, more people used it. That’s because itemizing makes sense only when the sum of itemized deductions outweigh the standard deduction’s amount.

Around two-thirds of individual returns took the standard deduction in the year before the boost, IRS statistics show. Approximately 90% of individual returns took it last filing season, IRS numbers show.

A standard deduction that remains larger could be low-hanging fruit with bipartisan appeal, Acuña said. “It’s worked pretty well. It has really simplified the filing process and it’s been less polarizing.”

Income-tax rates

The TCJA lowered five of the seven income-tax rates and shifted the income levels on when households bump up to the next bracket. Only the 10% rate at the bottom end and the 35% rate near the top were unchanged.

The top rate decreased to 37% from 39.6%. Biden pressed for a return to the 39.6% rate as both a candidate and as president. “The biggest fights are going be about provisions that affect the wealthy,” York said.

As for lower-rung tax rates? “I can see there being political will from both political parties to extend that,” Castro said. “No one wants to raise taxes on lower- and middle-class families.”

But even if there’s agreement to keep taxes lower for low- and moderate-income families, the details will get complicated quickly considering the tax revenue at stake, Acuña said. “Any slight modification, it just costs a lot of money,” she noted.

Child tax credit

Before the TCJA, the child tax credit paid $1,000 per child, with a phase-out kicking in at $75,000 for individuals and $110,000 for married couples. The law doubled the amount and pushed the income eligibility phase-out back much farther. But the credit is partially refundable, meaning taxpayers needed earned income and tax liability to unlock the full payment.

The American Rescue Plan of 2021 changed that for a year. Payouts jumped to $3,600 per child under age 6 and $3,000 for ages 6 to 17. Half of the amount was paid in monthly installments and the rest in the tax-year 2021 refund. The credit became fully refundable, pausing an earned income requirement.

The credit is already the subject of debate — particularly the earned income requirements. The enhanced credit’s supporters have already tried several times to revive it, most recently at the end of 2022. “The appetite for lawmakers to come together on that is uncertain,” York said.

Broadly speaking, both sides of the aisle want to extend tax relief to families raising kids, Castro said. Yet agreeing to the mix of eligibility rules and payment amounts will be the open question, he noted.

State and local tax deductions

While the TCJA increased the standard deduction, it curbed some itemized deductions and the limited the state and local tax deduction to $10,000. The deduction was previously unlimited and if tax rules went back to where they were, the cap would come back off.

The $10,000 cap was controversial from the start, prompting lawsuits from several Democratic-led states. (The litigation was unsuccessful and the Supreme Court last year refused to take the case.)

There is a bipartisan band of lawmakers in states with higher state and local taxes, known as the SALT caucus. But will the SALT cap come back off? “That’s probably a jump ball right now,” Castro said.

Tax rules for small business owners

While the TCJA permanently cut the corporate income-tax rate to 21% from 35%, the law also allowed eligible taxpayers a 20% deduction on qualified business income.

As corporations received a permanent tax cut, the idea was giving pass-through businesses, including small businesses, tax relief as well, York said.

For example, around 75% of the members in the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business trade and advocacy organization, organize their business as entities that pass income through to its owners or partners.

The deduction applies to businesses formed as limited liability companies, partnerships, sole proprietors and S corporations. If tax rules lapse back, the 20% deduction would go away and the business owners’ income-tax rate would also go back up, York said.

Critics, like Wamhoff, are quick to note that there’s a wide range of very well-off taxpayers who can benefit from tax rules billed as a benefit to small business. The rules are complicated and “a lot of this tax break is designed for when someone is successful, it makes things easier for them.”

One possible outcome could be a narrower version of the tax rules tucked in Section 199A, said Acuña. But nothing’s for sure. Compared to the prospect of a standard deduction that stays larger, “that one is a lot more polarizing,” she said.

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