First, however, one side must try to win everything.
“Anything at this point would be a wish list. Because it depends on what happens in 2024. The stakes are huge,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). « You almost have to win all three branches: the House, the Senate and the presidency. »
Both the House and the Senate could remain narrowly divided in two years, but the remaking of fiscal policy can happen with simple majority votes thanks to Congressional budget rules. That’s how a 50-50 Democratic Senate managed to impose a new minimum corporate tax last year and how a 52-48 GOP Senate passed the massive tax bill of 2017. It’s enough to raise the stakes of every single congressional campaign next year, because a seat or two in the House or Senate could mean the difference between a tax freeze or a party rewriting the entire code.
Clear battle lines are already forming nearly two years ahead: Republican leaders say they will likely simply attempt a direct extension of expiring Trump tax cuts, particularly on income tax rates, although some are keen to expand or reshape them altogether. Democrats hate cuts but are measured in how they talk about any repeal, aware that their rivals could easily attack plans like a tax increase.
Tax hikes proposed by Democrats on top incomes stalled in the last Congress due to the reluctance of Sen. Christmas cinema (I-Ariz.) to touch income tax rates. She may not be alone in 2025 — Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who is defending his seat in a red state next year, said when it comes to tax cuts, « there’s probably something worth keeping. » President Joe Biden has vowed not to raise taxes on people earning less than $400,000.
« We want a chance to do better » than the GOP on taxes, the Senate finance chairman said Ron Widen (D-Hours.).
There is early talk of a bipartisan tax deal ahead of the election that would trade some corporate tax breaks for an expansion of the child tax credit, which is also on track to shrink further in 2025. The lure of waiting could prove too big, however, as the trigger for expiring income tax rates creates greater incentives for lawmakers to act.
Not to mention, the run-up to a presidential election year doesn’t exactly create fertile ground for a bipartisan deal.
“It will be a campaign issue,” Sen. Mike Crappo (R-Idaho), who would be in line to chair the Finance Committee if Republicans retake the Senate. “Democrats will affirm it [Trump tax cuts] it only helps wealthy tax evaders. And Republicans will say that bill gave us the strongest economy.
It’s going to be an intensely challenging post-election year: The debt ceiling is also set to expire in 2025 (and can even be raised along the party line), as are the Obamacare subsidies that help keep some Americans’ health insurance rates low. Representative. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), who’s in line to lead the House Budget Committee if Democrats can flip the house, jokingly noting the 2025 political cliffhanger race: « Oh, you mean Armageddon? »
Even as Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy AND trying to use fiscal rules to take on debt and energy via a party vote if the GOP took back the Senate and the White House, it’s easy to imagine that taxes would consume the new Congress and new president. House Republicans are already working on their own tax plan, with new benefits for businesses and households that they say expand on the party’s 2017 law. Senior Tax Editor Rep. Draw Ferguson (R-Ga.) said there is « absolutely » a desire for another big leap after the election.
“We need to renew the expiring tax breaks,” said Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.) he said. « Just letting them lapse is a tax hike. »
Meanwhile, Democrats want to follow through on their longstanding pledges to tax the wealthy, not to mention their five-plus years of campaigning against the GOP’s tax bill. Expect to see that dynamic for at least one more election cycle in 2024.
The GOP tax cuts « did nothing for the country, » Sen. said. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is also up for re-election next year. « I’ll make an issue of it every day. »
Democrats were unable to revive their expired expansion of the child tax credit, due to the senator. Joe Manchin(DW.Va.) objects to its high price tag, but extending many or all of Trump’s tax cuts would also be costly. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) predicted future Democratic debates about whether new tax proceeds should be spent on top incomes on the child tax credit, infrastructure or industrial policy.
Democrats — and even some Republicans — in high-tax areas also want to scrap a Trump-era cap on deductions for those tax payments.
Progressives are particularly eager to see Biden carry out plans for a series of tax hikes on top incomes, such as the billionaire’s tax that the moderate party canceled last year.
“We want to get rid of Trump’s tax cuts. We would like to implement all the taxes that the president has mandated,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Republicans will also be tempted to roll back changes Democrats have made since Trump left office, such as increased IRS funding and additional taxes on the largest corporations.
« What we should do is make a judgment at that moment: What would be the best outcome we could expect? » Sen. Kevin Cramer (RN.D.) said of the expanded benefits. « What we don’t want to do is for everyone to go back. »
Any infighting within the party would become complicated: Manchin and Sinema’s divergent views on tax policy forced Democrats to refocus their view of the party around taxing stock buybacks and large corporations. And the GOP had its own internal brouhaha on the 2017 tax bill.
If the 2024 election ends in a split decision between the parties, things could get even more difficult.
Think of the apocalyptic scenario that led to a divided government in 2012, when lawmakers spent New Year’s Eve on Capitol Hill haggling over a series of tax deadlines. Biden, then a vice president, struck a deal with the Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell which raised taxes on top incomes but kept some George W. Bush-era tax cuts.
« It was the wrong thing to do, » Sen. recalled. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), who opposed the agreement.
Yet that very scenario is exactly where Congress could find itself in 2025.