To hear Donald Trump talk, you’d think Barack Obama was the president who stole Christmas.
Although Trump doesn’t generally single him out by name on this subject, the president’s meaning is unmistakable when he declares, as he has done since long before the holiday season, that’s he making it OK to talk about Christmas again. Obama, it would seem, did not. But that’s not what the record shows.
A look at that matter and others that arose in a week bristling with action on taxes and Trump’s words on foreign policy, politics and more:
TRUMP: “People are proud to be saying Merry Christmas again. I am proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!! — a tweet Christmas Eve.
THE FACTS: “Merry Christmas,” the president said when presiding over the lighting of the National Christmas Tree and celebrating “the birth of our Savior.”
That president was Obama, marking “my family’s Christian faith” and other faiths in his final Christmas tree ritual in office, in 2016.
The White House holidays under the Obamas had plenty of Christmas trappings and cheer. Obama offered a more general holiday message on the official greeting card, but wished “Merry Christmas” at the National Tree lighting, on his Twitter account and in his weekly address.
Trump explicitly criticized Obama in 2011, tweeting that the president had “issued a statement for Kwanzaa but failed to issue one for Christmas.” In fact, that year Obama wished people “Merry Christmas” from his Twitter account and gave a video address with wife Michelle Obama in which he wished people a “Merry Christmas and happy holidays.”
Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also offered greetings marking Kwanzaa, the weeklong African heritage festivities starting Tuesday. The White House said Trump will also have a statement on Kwanzaa.
TRUMP: “The bottom line is, this is the biggest tax cuts and reform in the history of our country. This is bigger than, actually, President Reagan’s many years ago.” — remarks to reporters Friday.
THE FACTS: Not so, in either case. For months Trump has refused to recognize larger tax cuts in history, of which there have been many, or to grant that other presidents have enacted big tax cuts since Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The White House won’t explain how he arrives at his conclusion.
An October analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that it would be the eighth biggest since 1918. As a percentage of the total economy, Reagan’s 1981 cut is the biggest followed by the 1945 rollback of taxes that financed World War II. Trump’s plan is also smaller than cuts in 1948, 1964 and 1921, and probably in other years.
Additionally, a Treasury Department analysis found Reagan’s 1981 tax cut had an annual average cost of nearly 2 percent of GDP. This would translate into roughly $400 billion in today’s dollars. The current tax cuts peak at $280 billion in 2019.
Valued at $1.5 trillion over 10 years, the plan is indeed large and expensive. But it’s much smaller than originally intended. Back in the spring, it was shaping up as a $5.5 trillion package. Even then it would have only been the third largest since 1940 as a share of gross domestic product. The government uses percentage of GDP to measure most budget and tax issues over time because that measure puts tax revenues and federal outlays in context relative to the entire economy.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: “You’re delivering on that middle-class miracle.” — to Trump at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Modest doesn’t usually make for a miracle. Pence’s praise to the boss reflects Trump’s assertion that “it’s a tax bill for the middle class,” as he often put it, but average people are not the prime beneficiaries of the tax cuts. Aside from businesses, rich people get the most.
The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates the biggest benefit of the new law will go to households making $308,000 to $733,000. Households making over that should get a tax cut worth 3.4 percent of their after-tax income. For the richest 0.1 percent (making over $3.4 million), the tax cut should be worth 2.7 percent of their after-tax income. For middle-income earners: 1.6 percent, the center estimates.
Moreover, only high-income people would get a meaningful tax cut after 2025, when nearly all of the plan’s individual income tax provisions are due to expire.
Republicans argue that the middle class will also see benefits from the business tax cuts, in the form of more jobs and higher wages.
DEMOCRATIC SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: “Their bill increases taxes on lots of middle-class people. … According to the Tax Policy Center, the top 1 percent of earners in our country gets 83 percent of the benefits.” — remarks Tuesday.
THE FACTS: The tax cuts are not nearly as lopsided as many Democrats are portraying them. Almost all of the middle class would initially pay less in taxes.
For the next eight years, the vast majority of middle-class taxpayers — those earning between $49,000 and $86,000 — will receive a tax cut, albeit a small one. In 2018, nine-tenths of the middle class will get a cut, according to the Tax Policy Center. In 2025, 87 percent will. The tax cut won’t be very big: just $930 next year for the middle one-fifth of taxpayers, the center’s analysis concludes. For those paid twice a month, that’s about $40 a paycheck.
Schumer and other Democrats who have blasted the plan as a middle-class betrayal are basing their assertions on the fact that nearly all personal tax cuts expire after 2025. That would result in a slight tax increase for about two-thirds of the middle class by 2027. The top 1 percent would still get a cut that year.
Only in 2027 do the wealthiest taxpayers get 83 percent of the benefit, as Schumer says. In 2018, roughly 21 percent of the tax cut’s benefits go to the richest 1 percent, a much smaller figure, though still a disproportionate share. Just 11 percent will go to the middle one-fifth.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, House Democratic leader: “86 million middle class families get a tax hike.” — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: She’s ignoring all the middle-class tax cuts before 2027; that year, taxes will be slightly higher for the middle class unless the cuts are extended.
TRUMP on his tax legislation: “Obamacare has been repealed in this bill.” — remarks Wednesday.
THE FACTS: It hasn’t. The tax plan ends fines for people who don’t carry health insurance. That’s a major change but far from the dismantling of the health law.
Other marquee components of Barack Obama’s law remain, such as the Medicaid expansion serving low-income adults, protections that shield people with pre-existing medical conditions from being denied coverage or charged higher premiums, income-based subsidies for consumers buying individual health insurance policies, the requirement that insurers cover “essential” health benefits, and the mandate that larger employers provide coverage to their workers or face fines.
Also, the tax law doesn’t repeal fines for uninsured individuals until the start of 2019, meaning the “individual mandate” is still in force for next year unless the administration acts to waive the penalties.
TRUMP: “When the individual mandate is being repealed, that means Obamacare is being repealed because they get their money from the individual mandate.” — remarks Wednesday.
THE FACTS: This is also wrong. The fines on people who don’t carry health insurance only provide a small fraction of the financing for the program. Most of the money comes from higher taxes on upper-income people, cuts in Medicare payments to service providers, and other tax increases.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that fines from uninsured people would total $3 billion this year, while the government’s cost for the coverage provided under the health law would total about $117 billion.
TRUMP on his predecessors: “They put American energy under lock and key.” — speech Monday.
THE FACTS: On the contrary, energy production was unleashed during Obama’s presidency, largely because of advances in hydraulic fracturing that made it economical to tap vast reserves of natural gas. Oil production also greatly increased, reducing imports. Before the presidential election last year, the U.S. for the first time in decades was getting more energy domestically than it imports. The government estimated this year that the U.S. could switch from being a net importer of energy to being a net exporter as early as 2019, depending on what happens to oil prices, energy resources and economic growth.
Trump, a Republican, has rolled back some obstacles for the coal industry, which indeed complained of overregulation by Obama, a Democrat. But coal’s decline in recent years was driven mainly by competition from cheap natural gas.
Despite his rhetoric about U.S. energy production, one of Trump’s most consequential actions as president has been to open the U.S. to another source of foreign oil, with his approval of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.
Obama’s two-term predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, was no adversary of the energy industry. Neither president put energy “under lock and key.”