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White House considering tax incentive for more Americans to buy stocks, sources say

CNBC logoCNBC 2/14/2020 Kayla Tausche
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WASHINGTON — As part of a forthcoming package of proposed tax cuts, the White House is considering ways to incentivize U.S. households to invest in the stock market, according to four senior administration officials familiar with the discussions.

The proposal, one of many new tax cuts under consideration, would see a portion of household income treated as tax-free for the purposes of investing outside a traditional 401(k). Under one scenario, a household earning up to $200,000 could invest $10,000 tax-free, although officials noted these numbers are fluid.

"Nothing's ruled out," said one senior administration official. "Nothing's been ruled in, either."

The development comes as President Donald Trump seeks reelection this fall. He has sought to distinguish himself from his potential Democratic rivals by accusing of them of pursuing "socialist" policies while he has touted tax cuts and deregulation under his administration.

After the Great Recession, the percentage of American households owning stocks fell to 52% from 62% before the crisis, according to Gallup. That percentage reached 55% in 2019, a year when the stock market hit record highs.

The tax break, if enacted, would represent "a pretty substantial amount of money for people" to have for retirement, according to Stephen Moore, economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation and close confidante of the White House.

"That's the type of thing that would expand ownership," Moore tells CNBC.

Related video: Trump is 'kind of like our money manager in chief,' Cramer says

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The stock market's rise under Trump's tenure is a well-documented point of pride for the president and his top economic officials, who have called the Dow Jones Industrial Average a "barometer" and a "mark-to-market indicator" of the administration's performance. The S&P 500, seen as the broadest index of corporate performance, has risen 49% since Trump took office.

The White House publicly has been pointing to the package as a new shot of adrenaline in an economy whose growth shows signs of slowing 10 years into an expansion. A payroll tax cut would become an option only if the economy experienced significant decline, according to two senior administration officials. Separately, Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, has suggested cutting the tax rate to 15% for middle-class earners.

Kudlow and Vice President Mike Pence have suggested that the package could be unveiled in early fall, as voters are deliberating whether to elect President Trump to a second term.

New tax cuts are "one of the reasons why we're going to focus so much energy on making sure that not only do we get President Donald Trump four more years in this White House," Pence said in a recent interview on the Fox Business Network. "But we're going to make sure that we reelect a Republican Senate and elect a Republican House of Representatives."

Any tax cuts would need congressional approval to take effect, a tall order while Democrats have the majority in the House of Representatives. For that reasons, officials described the proposal that would be made public as "conceptual in nature."

"It's sort of an idealistic document," said a senior official involved in discussions. "If you reelect this administration, this is what you're going to get."

Donald Trump © MANDEL NGAN / AFP Donald Trump
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