Tax platform stays offstage for Democrats

In contrast to the Republican platform, the Democrats' tax platform doesn't include many specifics about the party's goal for taxes and does not call for fundamental tax reform.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Delgates hold up posters and cheer at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Taxes are just not a thing for Democrats in this election season.  

The most remarkable take-away from reading the tax plank of the 2016 Democratic Party platform is how little it has to say about the topic. Sure, the 55-page document checks the usual boxes:  Tax the rich, tax multinational corporations, offer tax relief to the middle class, create or expand tax subsidies for clean energy and end tax breaks for fossil fuel producers (though not a word about a carbon tax). But for the most part, references are scattered around like sprinkles on an ice cream cone—a green one here, a couple of blue ones there, maybe a brown one dripping down the side of the cone.

The platform makes no call for fundamental tax reform, and includes no coherent framework for an efficient tax code. Mostly, it just says rich people and corporations should pay higher taxes.   

The Democrats wrote a tax agenda that stands in stark contrast with the Republican platform, approved just a week ago.  Take, for example, the subject of economic growth.

For the GOP, growth is all about taxes. This is what its platform said: “Republicans consider the establishment of a pro-growth tax code a moral imperative. More than any other public policy, the way government raises revenue … has the greatest impact on our economy’s performance.”

The Democrats talk about economic growth too. But if they have a moral imperative, it is about workers’ rights, a $15 minimum wage, and jobs building public infrastructure. When it comes to growth, taxes get barely a mention. For instance, a cornerstone of the Democrat plan to bring back manufacturing jobs is a promise to “claw back tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.”

The Democrats do see a role for tax subsidies in what the platform calls “ending poverty and investing in communities left behind.”  No new ideas here, but well-trod proposals to expand current programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the New Markets Tax Credit.  

The platform says much more about taxes it would raise than those it would cut, even though soon-to-be presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has filled her agenda with tax subsides of all kinds.  And the tax increases are fuzzy, reading as if they were written by a committee—which they were. Even when it comes to a perennial Democratic hobby horse—raising the cap on wages subject to Social Security taxes-- the platform says only that it would tax “some of the income of people above $250,000.” Not exactly an applause line. And certainly not one likely to win the embrace of the Berniecrats.  

The party platform does include the usual promise to close “loopholes that benefit millionaires and billionaires” a phrase I can’t type without hearing the Brooklynese baritone of Bernie Sanders.  Which loopholes? The platform suggests a “multimillionaire” surtax, an increase in the estate tax, and taxation of carried interest as ordinary income.

The Democrats’ tax platform is, in sum, a document written to be forgotten as soon as possible. And, in that, the Democrats appear to have succeeded beyond even their dreams.   

This article first appeared at TaxVox.

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