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Buyers’ remorse on tax reform; Trump’s returns still missing

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Here it is only a few short days until the April 15 deadline for Americans to pay their taxes, and tensions are high as Americans are discovering that the Republicans’ “great tax cut” of 2017 was not so great for them.

Some have become disgruntled by lower tax refunds than they have received in the past. Part of the reason is simply that the tax reforms were tilted toward benefiting the rich and big business, not the middle class.

For every thousand dollars a middle-class filer might hope to get back, the rich could expect tens of thousands. With all the many loopholes the rich are able to find with the help of teams of lawyers and accountants, it’s always been that way.

Another reason for the low refunds is more innocent but frustrating. When the tax changes went into effect, taxpayers received slightly larger checks from their employers based on the new tax rates. But many taxpayers, grateful for the tiny boosts they did receive, failed to notice that their withholdings were not adjusted at the same time, meaning that the refunds people were expecting now are lower because they got more of it back all along. The cuts weren’t big enough to make a meaningful impact on individual paychecks, but it cut down on the bigger refunds taxpayers were expecting to spend now.

That’s not good news either for taxpayers or for the economy, which usually gets a boost from all those refunds being spent by millions of Americans. The effect should kick in, but it won’t be as big a boost as the country has become accustomed to seeing.

Some Americans are just flat-out paying more taxes. For many, especially couples or single taxpayers, the larger standard deduction more than offset the loss of individual exemptions. But for families with children, the loss of exemptions cut severely into the higher standard deduction, meaning they didn’t come out ahead after all.

Americans’ disillusionment over their taxes, which will increase in a few years when those meager breaks expire, is not a good time for the president and his aides to defy Congress and the clear law by fighting tooth and claw against a request by the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to see Trump’s tax returns for the past six years as well as to answer whether any of them are under audit.

Trump’s lawyers and defenders are whining about “presidential harassment” and abuse of power, vowing “never” to make them public, but the Democrats have said they will use the returns to guide their investigations into steadily increasing allegations of corruption and wrongdoing in the administration and the president’s family business.

Federal law gives the committee chairman the right to request from the Treasury Department the returns of any American citizen, including the president, in order to ensure against any wrongdoing. This doesn’t mean the taxpayers will see them, as they have seen the returns of other presidents, but it allows appropriate authorities to review them. The president is not above the law.

This would not have been necessary if Donald Trump had not thumbed his nose at 50 years of tradition and refused to release his tax returns in 2016 as the other candidates did in following a tradition that went back to the Watergate scandal. They did so, and Trump promised to do so, in order to be transparent before the American people and show they had no financial skeletons they were hiding.

Trump has not kept his promise and shows no signs of doing so. In the early years of his presidency, though, investigations of Trump and figures in his administration have uncovered mounds of sleaze and corruption.

Some of the wrongdoing has been exposed during the Mueller investigation, which the court’s convictions have confirmed, and there’s likely yet more to be learned from the 400-page report that Attorney General William Barr has yet to release.

The House, in rare bipartisanship, has asked for the full Mueller report to be released to the public, not just the four-page summary that Barr produced after one weekend and which members of Mueller’s team are now saying underplays the seriousness of their findings. The public may have to be satisfied with a redacted version of the report, but congressional leaders have the right, and the need, to see everything, including all supporting evidence, to draw their own conclusions.

The president has steadfastly and loudly proclaimed his innocence throughout the Mueller investigation and, once the report was released to Barr, has said publicly if vaguely he favors the release of the findings to the public. If Mueller has found no wrongdoing, after all, Trump has nothing to hide.

But Donald Trump has led a ferocious and unrelenting fight against releasing any of his tax returns, not only breaking his promise to do so but fueling the increasing suspicions of the American people — and certainly his opponents — that he does have something serious to hide. Whether it’s something that simply hurts his ego or points to criminal tax fraud, the American people have said in repeated polls they want to know.

After all, we did also learn this week the president flagrantly cheats in playing golf. Who’s to say he doesn’t cheat on his taxes, too? That won’t sit well with law-abiding taxpayers this week — or voters next year.

Ken Ripley is a resident of Spring Hope and The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.