Holding ‘thrilled’ to work on tax bill, says estate tax repeal comes too late for him

In this May 19, 2016, file photo, Rep. George Holding speaks during the 2nd Congressional District Republican primary debate at WRAL studio in Raleigh, N.C.
In this May 19, 2016, file photo, Rep. George Holding speaks during the 2nd Congressional District Republican primary debate at WRAL studio in Raleigh, N.C.

Rep. George Holding used his finger to punctuate his points, jabbing at a table that sits just outside the U.S. House of Representatives. Holding, a former tax attorney and federal prosecutor now in his third term in Congress, has found his animating issue: tax reform.

It is the reason Holding wanted a spot on the Ways and Means Committee — a group whose existence is outlined in the Constitution and whose chairman’s office is just steps away from the House chamber — despite the former House speaker warning him of the do-nothing nature of the committee.

“The caveat being when it does do something, it changes the entire world,” Holding said.

Those are the lofty expectations he has placed on the Republican tax reform package that rolled out last week and will be debated and amended in Holding’s committee this week. The 76-page Tax Cuts and Jobs Act can, he argued, change the world and the trajectory of the United States.

“We’re losing the aspirational nature of the United States. The aspirational nature, I would argue, is one of the key ingredients in the secret sauce of American greatness,” Holding said. “If we can be successful in tax reform and get this economy rolling again and having growth, people are going to change their mind. ‘Hey, the next generation is going to have it better off. My kids are going to have it better off.’ They’re going to be aspirational again. That’s the key to American greatness.”

Holding said he was “thrilled” to be working on such an important piece of legislation, adding that some members of Congress spend 20 or 30 years in Washington without getting a similar chance.

Where Holding sees a pathway toward renewed optimism and increased economic growth in the Republican plan to lower rates on personal income and corporations, Democrats and critics see a giveaway to wealthy Americans at the expense of middle-class tax credits — including deductions for student loan interest, state and local taxes, medical expenses, dependent care and many others.

“We need tax reform that will help middle class families, but Congressman Holding and Washington Republicans want to hand out tax cuts to the wealthiest, while working North Carolina families foot the bill,” said Sam Searcy, a 2018 Democratic candidate for Holding’s seat.

Said Ken Romley, another Democratic candidate for Holding’s seat: “The so-called tax reform bill is shaping up to be little more than a tax break for the wealthy and big corporations paid for by the middle class.”

Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, have touted figures showing that a family of four making $59,000 would see a tax cut of $1,182, a statement PolitiFact rated as Half True, reporting that amount is accurate for the first year only. According to The New York Times, one-third of middle-class families would pay more taxes in 2018 and almost half would pay more taxes in 2026 under the GOP proposal compared to current tax law.

Holding’s family owns controlling interest in Raleigh-based First Citizens Bank and has run the bank for three generations. That family wealth has made him an easy target for Democratic critics – especially after Holding said he would prefer to eliminate even more deductions to lower tax rates further.

“Banking heir turned Congressman George Holding isn’t satisfied with just throwing out some of the tax deductions middle class families use to help make ends meet and pay for medical care,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Cole Leiter. “If he had it his way, he’d ‘get rid of all of them.’ Why? So he can pay for a giant handout to corporations and the richest Americans, like the banking family he was born into.”

Holding’s net worth is estimated to be at $4.85 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, making him one of the 50 richest members of Congress. That figure includes more than $3 million in First Citizens shares. The Democratic campaign committee, which has targeted Holding’s seat in 2018, labeled him “Scrooge McDuck,” after the rich Disney character who swims in a vault of his own gold coins.

The bill would eliminate the estate tax, a change that would be a boon to the nation’s wealthiest families. Holding fought for the elimination of the gift tax, which taxes gifts of more than $14,000 in a year.

When asked about the perception that the bill helps wealthy families like his own, Holding didn’t dispute it.

“Hey, it benefits everybody,” he said. “I sure do wish we had the elimination of the inheritance tax when my father died back when I was 10 years old and he was 54 years old and he was chairman of a bank. A great deal of the wealth that he had accumulated went to the federal government. So I feel like I’m a day late and a dollar short achieving that.”

Robert P. Holding Jr. died in 1979. He was chairman of First Citizens Bank at the time. George Holding was born in 1968.

“What we’re trying to achieve here is economic growth. I’d like to pay a lot of tax. I want to pay a lot more tax than I do now. I really do. I’d love to pay a lot more tax than I do now because that means I’d have a lot more income,” he said. “I’d be all about that.”

Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; Twitter: @MurphinDC