The carried interest loophole that was conspicuously absent from the White House tax plan White House tax principles unveiled last week is still on the chopping block, according to Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
The former Republican National Committee chairman said in an appearance on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that the loophole used by hedge fund and private equity managers to lower their tax rates is still on the table.
"That balloon is going to get popped pretty quick," he said. "The president wants to get rid of carried interest."
The carried interest rule allows fund managers to pay a capital gains tax rate on their incomes instead of the higher income tax rate. So, instead of paying a top rate of 43.4% (the top rate of 39.6% plus a 3.8% investment tax), managers instead pay a rate of 23.8% (a 20% tax on net capital gains plus 3.8%).
Trump on the campaign trail slammed hedge fund managers as "getting away with murder" for not paying their fair share in taxes and said he would scrap the carried interest loophole. The finance industry breathed a tentative sigh of relief when the rule was left out of Trump's one-page tax plan, but Priebus' comments indicate it's still on the radar.
A White House spokeswoman confirmed Trump's stance that carried interest is "still on the table," as Priebus said. "The president wants to simplify the tax code and therefore will be taking a hard look at all loopholes, deductions and exemptions," she said.
"I would think that they would want to take a run at it," said Dean Zerbe, former counsel to the Senate Finance Committee and national managing director at Alliantgroup, noting it may help stave off accusations by Democrats that the plan is a tax break for the wealthy. "The White House is smart to push for it."
Steve Rosenthal, business tax expert and senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, said that while Trump may be seeking to take away carried interest benefits for managers, he will give them even better pass-through benefits to make up for it.
Trump has proposed taxing pass-through entities, which currently pay taxes through the individual income tax code, at a proposed corporate rate of 15%. The White House insists the measure would be aimed at helping small businesses, but it would be a boon for many investment funds, too.
"What Donald Trump is taking away with one hand he's giving back with another," Rosenthal said.
Today, many fund managers employ a 2-and-20 fee structure for their services -- a 2% fee for assets under management, which, after expenses, is taxed at 39.6%, and a 20% fee for profits interest (the carried interest), which is taxed at 20%.
If Trump's plan is enacted (no legislation has yet been proposed), it could spur investment funds to overhaul their fee structures and how they charge clients.
"After Trump's changes, I expect investment managers to increase their fees, and give up their profit shares," Rosenthal said. "Maybe 5-and-0 for their services. The 5% fee, after expenses, would be taxed at 15% under Trump's plan."
"It will be a question on the anti-abuse rules. They'll probably try to make those pretty tight," Zerbe said.
Observers have noted that Trump's tax proposal, in its current state, would largely benefit the wealthiest Americans and balloon the deficit, despite the White House's assertion that it is aimed at the middle class and would spur economic growth.
Trump in an interview with CBS's John Dickerson said the loss in revenue would be made up by "many different" things, including better trade deals and a reciprocal tax, without providing details. Vice President Mike Pence told NBC's Chuck Todd that Trump's tax plan might increase the deficit "in the short-term" but will eventually spur growth, leading to higher revenue.
House Minority Leader Chuck Schumer slammed the tax plan in an interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace as "totally aimed at the wealthy interests," mentioning the estate tax, which the plan seeks to eliminate, and pass-throughs.
"The pass-throughs -- just one more, the pass-throughs on this -- on this tax bill, would allow hedge fund leaders, top Wall Street lawyers, CEOs of major corporations to pay 15 percent while their workers pay 20, 25, 30 percent," he said.