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Donald Trump Seeks Help To Revise His Tax Package

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Donald Trump is revising his tax plan again. Last year, Mr. Trump laid out some ideas like this at a press conference at Trump Tower.

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DONALD TRUMP: No business of any size, from a Fortune 500 company to a mom-and-pop shop, will pay more than 15 percent of their business income in taxes.

KELLY: He also said personal income taxes would drop, although rich people wouldn't be able to take so many deductions.

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TRUMP: In other words, it's going to cost me a fortune.

KELLY: Trump's proposals came under fire from critics on the left and the right, who say the plan would increase the federal deficit by about $10 trillion over the next decade. Now Trump is tweaking his plan, and he's called some prominent conservative thinkers to help him out, including Stephen Moore. He's a founder of the conservative super PAC, Club for Growth. He's now at The Heritage Foundation. We asked him to drop by to talk about what he is advising Trump to do.

STEPHEN MOORE: So what we said to Mr. Trump is we think there's a way of doing your plan and cutting the costs by half or even two-thirds, and you can still get a lot of the economic juice.

KELLY: OK, but sell me on this. When you say cutting by half or two-thirds, you're still talking about an increase in the federal deficit of - what? - something like four...

MOORE: Three or four over 10 years.

KELLY: ...Three or $4 trillion.

MOORE: Yeah. Yeah, but then you make that - then you have to cut spending. And Mr. Trump is very committed to spending reduction. So I'll give you examples of some things you could do that would really minimize the cost of this.

KELLY: These are things you are suggesting...

MOORE: We're suggesting.

KELLY: ...To Mr. Trump? OK.

MOORE: Now, Mr. Trump has not signed off on these yet. I hope that he does. But one of them would be to just put a cap on the amount of deductions and loopholes that people could take advantage of. So for example, just to throw out a number, we're saying, OK, what if you cap the deductions at 50,000. So for the middle class, that's not going to affect them at all 'cause most - a lot of American's don't even make $50,000 of income.

KELLY: Sure.

MOORE: But who will that affect? That'll affect people with incomes over a half a million dollars and millionaires and billionaires who take a lot of deductions. They're not going to have a big, big massive tax cut 'cause they're going to lose their loopholes.

KELLY: OK. But let me circle...

MOORE: Yeah.

KELLY: ...Back to this point because I think it's one that is on people's minds. You as an conservative economist, I presume, are not in favor of huge increases in the federal deficit. This plan, even with your tweaked version, would add trillions to the deficit, unless you're tweaking it so radically that it's unrecognizable.

MOORE: So we think we can get the cost down to $3 trillion or so over 10 years. Now, look, we're talking about out of 40 or $50 trillion of, you know, of federal budget over that period. So it sounds like a large number, but we're dealing with really large numbers here, number one. Number two, there is a spending cut component. And, you know, conservatives like me want to see the federal budget cut. We want to see the inefficiencies and the waste and the abuses of the system reduced. But I want to circle back to this point 'cause I think it's the heart of what we have to do as a nation.

KELLY: Please.

MOORE: We are not going to be able to solve any of these problems, whether it's the debt, the deficit, the poverty problem, stagnant wages, you know, pollution control - all of those things. We need to get growth. And if you can get the economy moving, I think a lot of these other problems, like the deficit, become a lot easier to solve.

KELLY: How confident are you that whatever tax plan you arrive at, that it will stick? I'm going to quote for you - The Washington Post recently began an article with the line "Trump has had more tax plans than wives."

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: Cheap shot or some truth there?

MOORE: Well, I don't know if that's actually a fair criticism.

KELLY: OK.

MOORE: I mean, he's actually only had one tax plan out there. Now, he's made statements...

KELLY: If you just look at the top tax rate that he's proposing...

MOORE: Yeah, he's had fidelity to his tax system.

KELLY: ...For rich Americans. It's just all over the map.

MOORE: But, this is - look, I've worked on a lot of campaigns over the years. You start with a - something on a piece of paper. You know, here are broad principles. I want to do-do-do-do. Then, as the campaign rolls along, you know, you start to put meat on the bone.

And look, I remember when Bill Clinton ran for president. And, you know, he had the - "Putting People First" was just a couple sheets of paper. And then, you know, as the campaign went on and he became president, he really filled in the blanks. President Trump is now filling in some of those...

KELLY: Not President Trump first - yet.

MOORE: Not quite yet. Donald Trump is filling some of those blanks now.

KELLY: He's persuaded you. You are a respected voice in conservative economic circles. Do you harbor any sneaking suspicion that you have been brought on board to give some sort of stamp of credibility to a tax plan that, as you know, has come under criticism from the left and the right?

MOORE: I like the Trump tax plan. I wouldn't have helped him if I didn't feel like he wanted to go in the right direction. When Larry Kudlow and I met with Mr. Trump, he and I basically said, we like the direction you want to go. We want to kind of refine it for you. And he said, I'm open to the suggestions.

Again, we don't know if he's going to take these, but I don't think it's fair to say he's had, you know, three or four or five different plans. And even the other day when he said something to the effect, well, I may have to raise taxes on the rich, I think that was taken a little bit out of context.

I believe what he meant - and he's clarified this - is, well, I was hoping to get the top income tax rate down to 25 percent from 40. Maybe we're not going to be able to get it to 25. Maybe it's going to have to be 27 or 28 percent. But still, people are going to pay lower taxes.

KELLY: Before we let you go, we've been talking about Donald Trump's tax plans for the nation. How about his own taxes? He says his tax rate is none of our business. Should it be?

MOORE: If I were advising him on this, I'd say, no way in the world should you ever release your tax returns. This is his business.

KELLY: Really?

MOORE: If he's done anything illegal, you know, it's out there. If he's cheated on his taxes, he's been audited, you know, dozens and dozens of times. And if people don't want to vote for him 'cause he's not going to release his tax forms, that's his own business. But I feel pretty strong - I mean, I can't say anything good that can come out of this, you know, him releasing his tax forms.

KELLY: Transparency as a candidate who's asking for our vote to lead the country.

MOORE: Where's it written? (Laughter) Where is the rule that says that the presidential candidate has to release their tax returns? Now, it is true for the last - what? - 30 years or so, presidents have done that. But, you know, I think that - what? - 40 presidents never released their tax returns. So I don't think that there's any kind of moral obligation to do this.

KELLY: Stephen Moore, thanks for coming in to talk to us.

MOORE: Thank you.

KELLY: Stephen Moore, he is visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation talking to us about Donald Trump's taxes and his tax plan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.