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Treasury secretary: Pass a tax bill or markets will tank

Steven Mnuchin has a stern warning for Congress: You could blow up the stock market if you fail to cut taxes.

The Treasury secretary, in the first episode of the “POLITICO Money” podcast, said Wall Street’s big run-up following the election of President Donald Trump is largely based on expectations of Congress passing a major tax-relief bill, and failure to do so could have significant consequences. The Dow is now up about 25 percent since the election, a fact Trump tweets about frequently.

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“There is no question that the rally in the stock market has baked into it reasonably high expectations of us getting tax cuts and tax reform done,” Mnuchin said in the interview. “To the extent we get the tax deal done, the stock market will go up higher. But there’s no question in my mind that if we don’t get it done you’re going to see a reversal of a significant amount of these gains.”

If that sounds like a threat to Republicans — and perhaps some Democrats — to pass a tax bill, that’s because it is. In fact, some analysts on Wall Street say that if a tax overhaul falters, a big correction on Wall Street could help push the legislative process back on track.

“If it suddenly looked like a tax bill was dead, stocks could sell off sharply. Then the blame game would begin,” said Greg Valliere of Horizon Investments. “I think Trump would hammer hard at Democrats, blaming their intransigence for a stock market sell-off. A half-dozen Democrats in the Senate, fearing a defeat next year, would waver.”

Mnuchin also gave an “absolute guarantee” that Trump would sign a major tax bill by the end of the year. The comments came before the president suggested on Monday that he might not, in fact, be able to sign a tax bill by year’s end.

“I would like to see it be done this year,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday. “But don’t forget it took years for the Reagan administration to get taxes done — I’ve been here for nine months. We could have a long way to go, but that’s OK.”

It’s not the first time Mnuchin has had a more aggressive timetable than the president. Earlier this year, the Treasury secretary said a tax bill would be complete by August.

Mnuchin also changed course somewhat in his defense of the GOP’s tax blueprint, conceding it would slash taxes on the wealthy but that doing so was unavoidable because rich people already pay so much in tax.

“The top 20 percent of the people pay 95 percent of the taxes. The top 10 percent of the people pay 81 percent of the taxes,” he said. “So when you’re cutting taxes across the board, it’s very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy with tax cuts to the middle class. The math, given how much you are collecting, is just hard to do.”

Mnuchin also defended eliminating the estate tax even though estates of up to $ 11 million per couple are already shielded from the levy. “The estate tax is somewhat of an economic issue and somewhat of a philosophical issue,” he said. “People pay taxes once. Why should people have to pay taxes again when they die?”

As lawmakers discuss a tax overhaul, Mnuchin said the administration is working with Congress to address concerns that eliminating the state and local tax deduction, while also eliminating personal exemptions, could wind up raising taxes on some middle- to upper-middle-class Americans in high-tax states.

“We’re working on fixing that right now. We’re conscious of that issue,” Mnuchin said. “And look, I’m sympathetic to that issue. I’ve lived in two of the highest-taxed states, New York and California.”

President Donald Trump is pictured. | AP Photo

Mnuchin added that the federal government should “get out of the business of subsidizing the states.” Pressed on the fact that these high-tax states in fact send more to the federal government than they get back in federal money, Mnuchin said: “That’s because they have more rich people. The fact that you have more tax money going back and forth has to do with demographics as much as anything else.”

In the interview, the Treasury secretary discussed his sports interests, Alexander Hamilton and Twitter.

Among the first things Mnuchin said he does each morning is read President Trump’s tweets. “I have it set for notifications, him and others. The first thing I do is my iMessages, and my tweets pop on my phone.”

The Treasury secretary revealed in the interview that he is “not a big baseball guy.”

“I’m a basketball guy,” he said, adding that his main sports allegiance is to the Los Angeles Lakers, a team he came to love during the dominant Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal era.

“I hate to admit it, but my team is the Lakers even though they’ve had a really difficult time the last few years,” Mnuchin said. “But it was super exciting being in L.A. when they had the great, world’s best Lakers for years. I have a Lakers ring from when they won.”

Rand Paul is pictured. | POLITICO

On hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico, Mnuchin tried to gently walk back Trump’s tweet suggesting the U.S. can’t have first responders and other federal assistance on the island indefinitely. “The president cares as much about Puerto Rico as everywhere else. He’s very concerned about Puerto Rico,” he said. “Puerto Rico had a very difficult economic situation before the hurricane. They’ve got a lot of debt that they can’t afford. I think the president’s comment is, ultimately, Puerto Rico needs to take responsibility for rebuilding Puerto Rico.”

Mnuchin declined to comment on who Trump will select as the next Federal Reserve chair. Sources close to the matter say Mnuchin prefers current Fed governor Jerome Powell. Other top candidates include former Fed governor Kevin Warsh, Stanford economist John Taylor, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and Janet Yellen herself, who will meet with Trump soon to discuss the job.

“I am participating in meetings with the president for him to consider various people. It would be inappropriate for me to make any comment about those confidential meetings. The president hasn’t made any decision,” he said. “I’m hopeful that it’s something that will be concluded within the next month.”

Asked why Trump would not just renominate Yellen, Mnuchin said: “I do have a very good relationship with the chair. I meet with her once a week, which is consistent with what other Treasury secretaries do, and she’s obviously being considered like a lot of other people are being considered.”

Mnuchin said he’s a big fan of biographies (including Ron Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton”) but that he doesn’t have much time for pleasure reading these days. “I haven’t read a good biography in a while, because literally on my nightstand is my briefing book for the next day, which looks like a biography it’s so big.”

On Hamilton himself, Mnuchin said, “I have a beautiful painting of him in my office. He stares at me every day, and I look at him for great advice.”

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Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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