President Donald Trump gestures as delivers his first State of the Union address in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol to a joint session of Congress Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan applaud. (Win McNamee/Pool via AP)
President Donald Trump gestures as delivers his first State of the Union address in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol to a joint session of Congress Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan applaud. (Win McNamee/Pool via AP)
PHOTO: Win McNamee/AP
Now playing
01:06
Trump: We are enacting the biggest tax cuts
US President Donald Trump smiles after arriving to give the State of the Union address in the chamber of the US House of Representatives in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Win McNamee        (Photo credit should read WIN MCNAMEE/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump smiles after arriving to give the State of the Union address in the chamber of the US House of Representatives in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Win McNamee (Photo credit should read WIN MCNAMEE/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: WIN MCNAMEE/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
02:00
Trump's State of the Union speech in 2 minutes
Cabinet members, members of Congress and Supreme Court justices listen as President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address on January 30, 2018.
Cabinet members, members of Congress and Supreme Court justices listen as President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address on January 30, 2018.
PHOTO: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty
Now playing
00:44
Dems boo Trump's 'chain migration' remarks
SOTU officer holets
SOTU officer holets
PHOTO: POOL
Now playing
01:38
Trump to cop: You embody the nation's goodness
estado de la union trump infraestructura segura moderna inversion sot _00001903.jpg
estado de la union trump infraestructura segura moderna inversion sot _00001903.jpg
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:52
Trump reverses Obama policy on Guantanamo Bay
SOTU otto warmbier parents
SOTU otto warmbier parents
PHOTO: POOL
Now playing
02:34
Trump: We honor Otto Warmbier's memory
SOTU Ji Seong-ho
SOTU Ji Seong-ho
PHOTO: POOL
Now playing
02:51
Trump honors North Korean defector at SOTU
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30:  U.S. President Donald J. Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. President Donald J. Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Now playing
01:36
Trump: This is why we stand for the Anthem
2018 State of the Union Pool Switched/DEM Response BU
2018 State of the Union Pool Switched/DEM Response BU
PHOTO: POOL
Now playing
01:40
Trump: Americans are dreamers too
US President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018.
 / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
01:09
Trump: Open borders cause loss of lives
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30:  U.S. President Donald J. Trump waves during the State of the Union address as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) look on in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. President Donald J. Trump waves during the State of the Union address as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) look on in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Now playing
03:27
Trump outlines pillars of immigration plan
SOTU trump 05
SOTU trump 05
PHOTO: POOL
Now playing
01:13
Trump: The era of economic surrender is over
First lady Melania Trump arrives before the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
First lady Melania Trump arrives before the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
PHOTO: J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Now playing
01:01
Melania Trump enters House chamber
2018 State of the Union Pool Switched/DEM Response BU
2018 State of the Union Pool Switched/DEM Response BU
PHOTO: POOL
Now playing
01:23
Trump honors Scalise during speech
2018 State of the Union Pool Switched/DEM Response BU
2018 State of the Union Pool Switched/DEM Response BU
PHOTO: POOL
Now playing
01:09
Trump: We are rediscovering the American way

Story highlights

Trump has said the tax cuts Congress passed would be the biggest ever

They would not, according to the way the government measures tax cuts

Editor’s Note: Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story first appeared in December.

(CNN) —  

President Donald Trump has bragged – and did so again during his State of the Union address Tuesday – that the tax cuts Congress passed would be the biggest in history.

There’s no doubt the tax legislation slashed corporate tax rates and will give 80% of individual filers a tax cut, according to some estimates.

But arguably, President Barack Obama passed a larger tax cut by making most of President George W. Bush’s cuts permanent. President Ronald Reagan definitely did. And Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson probably did, too.

“It will be the biggest tax decrease, or tax cut, in the history of our country,” Trump said at the White House last month.

Tax analysts have been unequivocal that Trump’s claim is not true.

“While it is not the largest tax cut ever, it is the most poorly timed giant tax cut in history,” said Leonard Burman, institute fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. “The economy is near full employment and the national debt is at a postwar record and rising fast.”

An analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that Trump’s cut is the eighth largest since 1918.

Even the Treasury Department has weighed in on the debate. Though that would be Bush’s and Obama’s Treasury departments, not Trump’s. The Treasury Department released several iterations of a paper between 2006 and 2013 that measured the size of past tax cuts.

The Treasury reports found that, since 1968, three other tax cut bills have been bigger: Reagan’s 1981 cuts, and two bills passed by Obama to extend the Bush tax cuts. Between 1940 and 1967, when the data is less reliable, three tax cuts were larger, two of them after the war, when rates were lowered again.

The Treasury measured the sizes of tax cuts by looking at the revenue effects of the bills as a percentage of gross domestic product – in other words, how much federal revenue the bill cuts away as a portion of the economy. Reagan’s 1981 cut was 2.9% of GDP. Obama’s tax cut extensions in 2010 and 2012 were 1.3% and 1.8%, respectively.

Trump’s tax cut, by contrast, is estimated to be about 1.1% of GDP per year. Even excluding Obama’s cuts – which were really extensions of previous cuts first enacted by Bush – Trump’s tax reform bill will have nowhere near the effect on revenue that Reagan’s did. Trump’s cuts for individuals are temporary. So, like Bush, he’s potentially setting himself up for another president to get to take credit for his tax legislation in 2025.

When multiple tax cuts and increases by the same President are grouped, Trump’s cut shrinks further. Bush’s cuts come in at 1.4% of GDP. Even accounting for Reagan’s rollbacks after 1981, his first-term cuts exceed Trump’s bill.

The calculation for Trump’s tax bill’s revenue effect is made by taking the Joint Committee on Taxation’s estimated budgetary effects for the tax bill from 2019 through 2022 and dividing by the Congressional Budget Office’s cumulative GDP projections through the same period, while factoring in the joint committee’s estimated growth effects. A four-year window average is used because it is the same baseline the Treasury report uses, and it is also the period where the bill costs the most.

All calculations, including those in the Treasury report, start with the static estimates of the bills.

Part of the reason the current proposals have less of a cut than previous bills is because of how the legislation was passed. Republicans used “budget reconciliation” to get it passed without Democratic votes. That allowed the GOP to bypass a filibuster, but it also reduced how deep any cuts can be. “Particularly for a bill like this, large timing gimmicks, like the sunset, become really important,” said Greg Leiserson, a former senior Treasury tax economist who’s the director of tax policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

Reagan, the saint of “trickle-down economics,” cut rates to corporations and to individuals across the board in 1981, giving the largest cuts to high earners. Reagan’s 1986 tax reform made substantial changes to the tax code’s structure to try to simplify it. Whether Reagan’s cuts helped or hurt the rich and whether they are the reason for the growth the economy experienced during the 1980s is still a matter of debate.

Regardless, the Bush tax reductions borrowed heavily from the supply-side ideology that underpinned Reagan’s cuts. Bush cut taxes across the board, lowered rates on dividends and capital gains, and changed the estate tax to benefit high earners. His cuts are generally credited with helping middle-class families and, even more, the wealthy. Bush is faulted, however, for driving increased inequality between low and high earners. When Obama extended most of the Bush cuts, several provisions that benefited high earners were allowed to expire.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin defended Trump’s claim to CNN’s Jake Tapper in November and made specific arguments about the sizes of specific elements of the plan, but did not have a compelling argument backing up the President’s more general claim.

An open question, not answered by the Treasury report, is whether this is the largest tax cut in history for corporations. Tax experts say it could be. The bill rolls back cuts on the individual side at the end of 2025 but keeps the corporate cuts in place.