How Mnuchin Keeps a Steady Grip in a Tug of War on Trade

Two weeks ago, Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, declared that the trade war with China was “on hold” and that the United States would temporarily holster its tariffs. The reassuring comments calmed markets and raised hopes that Mr. Mnuchin, one of President Trump’s most enduring and trusted advisers, was winning the internal trade battle that has gripped the White House.

Then Mr. Trump weighed in. In a one-two punch last week, the president doubled down on the trade war with China and threw in ones with Canada, Mexico and Europe for good measure.

.. The scolding laid bare the uncomfortably familiar spot that Mr. Mnuchin finds himself in: trying to be a voice of moderation and a statesman in an administration that sees diplomatic norms and protocols as signs of weakness.

He has so far managed to stay in Mr. Trump’s good graces while advocating a more free-trade approach, but that balancing act is showing signs of strain.

.. Mr. Mnuchin, unflappable in public, is privately making his case with a president

.. The internal tensions boiled over in May during a trade mission Mr. Mnuchin led to China, when he dressed down Peter Navarro, Mr. Trump’s hawkish trade adviser, by reminding him where he stood in the administration’s pecking order after Mr. Navarro confronted him about being sidelined from the talks.

.. Current and former White House and Treasury officials say Mr. Mnuchin has managed to thrive by employing a mix of assertiveness and obsequiousness, staking out his position to the president but quickly changing course to carry out Mr. Trump’s marching orders, even if his message did not win the day.

.. Mr. Trump tweeted that he was going to find a way to help put back in business a Chinese telecommunications company that had been punished for violating American sanctions on Iran and North Korea. The decision blindsided administration officials and lawmakers

.. Mr. Mnuchin, along with the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, was dispatched to Capitol Hill to try to calm angry Republican lawmakers and explain the rationale behind allowing the company, ZTE, to remain in business.

.. those close to the secretary say he has learned to appreciate Mr. Trump’s use of the threat of tariffs as a negotiating tool.

.. focused on the president’s desire to see the bilateral trade deficit reduced, rather than emphasizing some of the other trade barriers

.. Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former top strategist, has said that Mr. Mnuchin is in over his head in the negotiations and that he is letting Mr. Trump’s leverage slip away by failing to force China to make major changes to its industrial policy.

.. it was apparent that the Chinese government was trying to elevate Mr. Mnuchin’s role in the negotiations because they see him as the American official most likely to cut a deal.

.. “Among the possible choices, they see Mnuchin as being less hawkish than some of the other counterparts,”

.. populist voices outside the administration have already been heckling Mr. Mnuchin as inept amid reports that the United States was on the verge of making an agreement with China that was viewed as merely symbolic.

.. Mr. Mnuchin has at times found himself the subject of derision, characterized as a fawning banker who cannot tell the president “no.”

.. Last year, the Treasury secretary was scoffed at by economic policymakers from across the political spectrum for insisting that the $1.5 trillion Trump tax cuts would pay for themselves.

.. Mr. Mnuchin told members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus to “vote for the debt ceiling for me.” His plea was met with groans and hisses.

.. Last August, fellow alumni of Yale, where Mr. Mnuchin earned a bachelor’s degree, called on the secretary to resign when he defended Mr. Trump’s handling of racially inspired violence in Charlottesville, Va. A month later, Lawrence Summers, a Clinton administration Treasury secretary, called Mr. Mnuchin the “greatest sycophant in cabinet history” for supporting Mr. Trump’s criticism of football players who knelt during the national anthem.

.. points to his role in successfully steering the Republican tax cut package, which many said would never pass, through Congress.

.. Within the Treasury Department, Mr. Mnuchin has developed a reputation as a micromanager. He resisted choosing a full-time deputy for more than a year, preferring to oversee everything from carrying out the new tax law to overseeing financial sanctions.

.. When the Internal Revenue Service systems failed on Tax Day, the response to the crash was slowed because Mr. Mnuchin was in New Hampshire

.. He had required that any big decisions be cleared by him

.. Mr. Mnuchin’s closest aides describe him as a collegial and mentoring figure.

.. Despite his earnest persona on television, he is known to possess a wry sense of humor

 

Do You Think Donald Trump Is Ready for a Real Financial Crisis?

The tax law and a push by the Trump administration to increase military spending will reduce federal revenue and force the Treasury to borrow more money when the economy is close to full employment. This could stoke inflation and prompt the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy. That, in turn, would slow the economy.

.. The prospect of a recession or financial crisis on Mr. Trump’s watch is unnerving, because he is as confident in his own abilities as he is lacking in knowledge and sound judgment. When confronted with criticism, he lashes out like an intemperate child.

On Monday, he said Democrats who did not applaud during his State of the Union address were un-American and treasonous.

.. If the stock market falls further, will the president try to reassure the public, or will he launch a Twitter fusillade blaming the drop on, say, a conspiracy hatched by the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, and Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge fund manager who wants Mr. Trump impeached?

.. Instead, he has stacked his administration with incompetent yes men, right-wing ideologues and Washington swamp dwellers. Consider the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, a former investment banker, who unnerved the currency market last month by suggesting that the United States was trying to weaken the dollar. His statement broke with the longstanding practice followed by Treasury secretaries from both parties to avoid making careless public pronouncements about American currency.

Mr. Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, the White House’s chief economic adviser, also debased their credibility last year by arguing with no evidence whatsoever that the Republican tax cut would pay for itself.

.. Paul Ryan, tried to pass off as good economic news that a public school secretary would take home an extra $1.50 a week as a result of the tax law.

.. Mr. Ryan, for one, is citing the deficit to make the case that the government needs to slash Medicaid, Medicare and other important government programs. Other members of his party are using the deficits to argue that the government cannot afford to repair and upgrade the country’s dilapidated infrastructure.

 

Facts Have a Well-Known Liberal Bias

Facebook wanted responsible fact-checking organizations to partner with, and several such organizations exist. But all of these organizations are constantly attacked by the right as having a left-wing bias – so it added The Weekly Standard, even though it clearly failed to meet internationally accepted standards for that role.

Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin Risk Their Reputations

When Cohn joined the Trump administration, many corporate executives were relieved, seeing him as a steadying influence.

.. Now, unfortunately, both Cohn and Mnuchin are endangering their reputations in their attempts to sell a tax cut.

.. Within the administration, there are real differences among how top officials have behaved and how they are perceived. Several — Tom Price, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer and Rex Tillerson — have badly sullied their standing with virtually everyone outside the administration. After long careers, they have turned themselves into punch lines.

.. The clearest exception is Jim Mattis, the defense secretary. Mattis has done so partly by avoiding scandal and minimizing conflicts with Trump. But he has also been careful to set his own ethical boundaries. Can you recall a single time when Mattis has said something outright untrue? I can’t. That’s how he has retained his dignity in the eyes of so many people.

.. In the early stages of promoting Trump’s tax cut, they have made a series of statements that are blatantly false — not merely shadings of truth or questionable claims but outright up-is-down falsehoods mocked by various fact-checkers. The statements make the two look more like Trump press secretaries than serious business executives whom members of Congress can trust.

.. They fall into two main categories. The first is who benefits from the tax plan. “Wealthy Americans are not getting a tax cut,” Cohn said on “Good Morning America.” He was echoing a promise that Mnuchin had made before the inauguration: “Any reductions we have in upper-income taxes will be offset by less deductions, so that there will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class.”

.. Want to guess how many families in New York State — population 20 million — are wealthy enough that they’re likely to pay any estate tax next year, according to an estimate based on I.R.S. data? Just 470. The number is so low in Montana, Vermont, West Virginia and four other states — likely fewer than 10 families in each — that the I.R.S. doesn’t provide details, to avoid privacy concerns.

.. Then there are the two men’s deficit claims. “This tax plan will cut down the deficits by a trillion dollars,” Mnuchin said. Cohn claimed that “we can pay for the entire tax cut through growth.”

.. The Harvard economist Greg Mankiw coined the phrase “charlatans and cranks” specifically to describe people who claim that tax cuts pay for themselves. And Mankiw is a conservative who’s worked for George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.

.. Neither one of them has yet turned 60 years old. These won’t be their last jobs.

Four Rules for the Coming Tax Reform Debate

True reform will require a bipartisan consensus around closing loopholes to pay for the lowering of statutory tax rates paid by businesses, and reducing burdens on working families. Changing tax law must be done in a fiscally responsible way, without cutting taxes for the very wealthy.

First, changes in the tax rates for individuals must at least maintain the current levels of progressivity

  1. Cutting tax rates for the very wealthy would deepen the income inequality that underlies the anxiety and anger among American voters. If Congress doesn’t preserve or increase progressivity, we won’t have the resources to pay for investments like infrastructure and child care.
    • .. Congress must also maintain the estate tax, which is levied only on estates worth more than $5.49 million ($10.98 million for a couple), affects only the wealthiest 0.2 percent and protects small businesses, including family farmers.
    • .. Many of the estates that are taxed have assets that have increased in value but have never been subject to capital gains tax, and never will be. The idea that the estate tax imposes double taxation is largely a myth.
  2. Second, tax cuts must be offset by revenue-raising measures. With the country in the ninth year of an economic recovery, the case for pure stimulus is weak, and digging a deep hole of debt by cutting taxes will make it harder to pay for other priorities.
    • Tax cuts need to be revenue neutral, paid for by reducing tax subsidies, ending loopholes or generating new revenue.
  3. Third, Congress should rely on its Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office to estimate what a tax bill will cost.
    1. Claims that tax cuts pay for themselves must be treated with great skepticism.
    2. Such a reckless move would almost surely produce an explosion of debt. In 1981, 2001 and 2003, tax cuts based on projections that they would largely pay for themselves did not, and when deficits soared, future presidents had to make hard choices to restore fiscal stability.
  4. Fourth, business tax reform must not open up new loopholes for top earners to evade taxes. Proposals to lower the tax rate on “pass-through” income (income that partnerships, sole proprietorships, S corporations and limited-liability companies “pass through” to owners) would create a costly, unpoliceable loophole. Wealthy individuals and businesses could easily reorganize on paper to take advantage of low pass-through rates.
    1. most pass-through income goes to wealthy individuals and big businesses like hedge funds and large oil and gas pipeline companies organized as limited partnerships.
    2. Kansas instituted a similar policy in 2012 and repealed it this year after 100,000 new pass-throughs emerged — among them the coach of the University of Kansas basketball team, who had his salary paid to a pass-through entity to escape state income tax. Yet job and economic growth in Kansas lagged that of most neighboring states, evidence that the policy did not produce the growth that supporters promised

G.O.P.’s $1.5 Trillion Tax Cut

Republicans claim that a $1.5 trillion tax cut over 10 years won’t further explode the deficit because it will pay for itself through increased economic growth.

.. The cumulative deficit

  • tripled under President Ronald Reagan and
  • doubled under George W. Bush,

while it grew more slowly under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, under whom some tax rates were increased.

.. And yet here they go again. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, then either the Republican Party is insane or it believes that the American people are incurably gullible.