A White House Story Reveals Shifting Stance on Tax Cuts for the Rich

On Monday, as news about the indictment of President Trump’s former campaign manager dominated the headlines, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, took to the podium to tell a story about journalists, bar tabs and discount beer.

The story, told at the White House press briefing, was meant to illustrate the realities of America’s progressive tax system. Instead, Ms. Sanders’ tale appears to conflict another story that President Trump likes to tell: the one about how he’s not interested in cutting taxes for the rich.

Earlier this month, in a meeting with members of the Senate Finance Committee, Mr. Trump repeated his oft-told anecdote of a chat he had with his good friend Robert Kraft, the wealthy owner of the New England Patriots, in which Mr. Kraft implored him to cut taxes for the middle class but not the rich. Mr. Trump agreed with that notion, Democrats who attended the meeting said, and declared that his coming tax bill would be focused on the middle class and not on rich people like Mr. Trump.

On Monday, though, Ms. Sanders opened her press briefing with a story that, at its core, is a defense of cutting taxes on high earners because they pay a greater share of taxes than those on the lower end of the income scale.

The story focuses on 10 reporters who go out drinking every night, always spending $100. (If those reporters live in Washington, they could each afford a Corona, plus tax, at the Trump International Hotel.)

The reporters correspond to taxpayers across the American income distribution, and their division of the night’s tab, in Ms. Sanders’ telling, corresponds to the breakdown in who pays income taxes in the United States. The poorest reporters pay no tab at all. The middle pay a little. The richest foot most of the bill.

“The 10 reporters drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement,” Ms. Sanders said, in a metaphorical break from the administration’s case that Americans are dissatisfied with the current tax code, “until one day, the bar owner threw them a curveball. ‘Since you’re all such good customers,’ he said, ‘I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20.’ Drinks for the 10 reporters would now cost just $80.”