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Hawley says he sides with Trump on tax cuts, blasts McCaskill

Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley and Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill
Durrie Bouscaren & Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley and Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican now running for the U.S. Senate, said he fully supports President Donald Trump’s overall plan to cut taxes – and accuses Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill of opposing the idea.

“She has been unequivocally ‘no’ on the president’s blueprint,’’ Hawley said in a conference call Wednesday with reporters. “She has said ‘no’ to the proposal that the president has on the table.”

But Hawley’s statement doesn’t line up with what McCaskill has said about the issue. She’s emphasized that it’s still unclear what’s in the president’s tax proposal, or in any of the other tax cut proposals being drafted by the U.S. House and Senate. So far, Republicans who control Congress haven’t actually rolled out legislation to overhaul federal taxes.

McCaskill was among a bipartisan group of senators invited to meet with Trump last week at the White House to discuss the tax issue.

"Claire has been crystal clear that she supports tax reform that provides relief to the middle class, but she will not support a plan that only benefits millionaires and billionaires,” said state Democratic Party spokeswoman Meira Bernstein.

Bernstein pointed to one analysis showing that one potential tax cut plan would lead to a typical middle-class Missouri family seeing their taxes increase by roughly $900 a year. She accused Hawley of “blindly following (Senate GOP leader) Mitch McConnell or doing what your millionaire donors tell you to do.”

When pressed on how McCaskill was an ‘unequivocal no’ to overhauling federal taxes, Hawley pointed to an Oct. 20 tweet from the senator: “What we know about the R plan so far is that it’s focused on cuts that will benefit millionaires & billionaires. Can’t support w/out changes.”

During the call, Hawley read the tweet — but left off the words “without changes.”

Hawley, meanwhile, contended that McCaskill favored the current tax setup because she and her husband are wealthy. “The tax code benefits the wealth and well-connected,’’ he said.

He also resurrected a controversy from a few years ago when she acknowledged that her family didn’t pay St. Louis County property taxes on a plane they owned at the time.

Hawley on deficit, 401K limits

Hawley said that it was more important for Congress to approve tax cuts than tackle the federal budget deficit, which has been a GOP concern for years. 

The current federal fiscal year ended Sept. 30 with the first increase in the budget deficit in several years.

“I think that at this point, our focus right now needs to be on providing tax relief and we can worry at the next stage what needs to be done on the spending side of the ledger,” Hawley said.

Hawley said he favored tax proposals to increase the federal standard deduction, and expand child-related tax credits. But he appeared cooler to proposals to cap tax breaks on 401(k) retirement plans used by millions of Americans.

Hawley said he opposed any plan to do away with the home-mortgage deduction, but might support eliminating the deduction on a second home.

He also indicated support for doing away with the federal tax break for state and local tax payments. Lawmakers from both parties in high-tax states such as New York and California generally oppose that idea.

Hawley also wants to do away with the federal inheritance tax, which he says would protect farmers and business owners in Missouri.

McCaskill’s campaign cited the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which has said only 80 entities in Missouri now have enough assets to have to pay the estate tax. Federal law now exempts any individual with assets of less than $5.49 million from paying an estate tax.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.