It’s official: The latest round of tariffs now means that the total tax increase on Americans from enacted tariffs exceeds the tax increases from the Affordable Care Act, (un)popularly known as “Obamacare.”
On Sept. 19, President Trump imposed a 10 percent tax on $200 billion of Chinese imports. On Jan. 1, 2019, this tax will rise to 25 percent. But even without that January tariff rate increase, trade taxes on American businesses and consumers will exceed those of the ACA.
With the added $20 billion in trade taxes coming from this latest round of tariffs, the National Taxpayers Union Foundation now estimates the total annual cost of enacted tariffs to be $41.65 billion. That easily outpaces the tax bill from the Affordable Care Act for next year ($34.6 billion) after accounting for recent changes to the ACA.
The $67.2 billion estimated 2019 tax burden of the Affordable Care Act prior to those changes is lower than the cost of new trade taxes once a scheduled $30 billion tariff increase takes effect in January. If every currently proposed tariff is enacted, the total trade tax burden will nearly double even the tax burden of the pre-reform ACA — NTUF estimates the net total of proposed and enacted trade taxes to be $132.55 billion. That would offset more than 70 percent of the $188.8 billion in 2019 individual income tax cuts.
Political news outlets and commentators have taken to using the term “slaps tariffs on X country” to describe the action of imposing tariffs, but this serves as a reminder that American businesses and consumers are slapped by tariffs just as viciously as the target countries. While tariffs make foreign goods less competitive in the American market, it’s actually the importerthat remits the cost of the tariff to U.S. Customs.
American consumers pay for tariffs as well. Tariff costs paid by an importing business are generally passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Even when a domestic business chooses to change its behavior because of a tariff and avoid foreign goods, there was likely a reason why the domestic business had previously been importing foreign goods over domestic ones. Whether it means higher prices or lower-quality goods, American consumers pay the price.
Artificially higher prices for goods through trade restrictions have ripple effects throughout the economy. Businesses experiencing increased supply costs must make up the loss elsewhere, often through reduced wages or employment. As statements by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and trade adviser Peter Navarro have reminded us, the costs of tariffs are often spread across the economy and hidden — a few extra cents for a six-pack of soda or a can of soup, or a few extra dollars for a new appliance. That’s why tariffs are especially dangerous. They allow the government to pick winners and losers by imposing a hidden tax that is regressive and weakens Americans’ economic security.
U.S. exporters are doubly harmed by the new tariffs. When Americans import fewer goods, that means our trading partners have fewer dollars to spend on U.S.-made exports. Foreign retaliation against U.S. trade barriers adds to the damage.
President Trump has done good things in some areas of taxation, such as reducing the tax burden through tax reform and making American corporations more competitive on the international level. He should not undo this progress by hitting American consumers with trade taxes that nearly wipe away those gains.
Bryan Riley is the director of the Free Trade Initiative at the National Taxpayers Union. Andrew Wilford is a policy analyst with the National Taxpayers Union Foundation.