When victory is more important than values democracy suffers. In the early morning hours on December 2nd the Senate Republicans in passing their tax bill sacrificed our country on a partisan cross.
The Senate will now meet with the House in a conference committee to reconcile the many substantial differences between its version of a tax bill with the House’s version. The outcome of this process is uncertain at this point in time.
What is certain is that no matter what the final bill looks like it will represent a loss for the country and many of its citizens.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Senate bill would increase the deficit by over $1.4 trillion over the next ten years and stated it would have a negative impact on those earning less than $30,000 by 2019 and on those earning less than $75,000 by 2027. Because of the Senate’s elimination of the individual mandate for health care, groups such as AARP, the American Medical Association, and the American Hospital Association oppose the proposed legislation.
The majority of Americans do not support the Republican tax plan. Two public opinion polls conducted shortly before the Senate passed its bill showed that only 29 percent of those surveyed approved of the proposed tax changes.
Nonetheless, the Senate said the public be damned and proceeded to wreak its own havoc on the American tax system. This action illustrated the truth about the Republican approach to “reforming” taxes: It is populist in rhetoric, plutocratic in practice, and propaganda-driven in process.
In talking about tax reform, the Republicans have taken a page from the Donald Trump populist playbook. They profess that the tax cuts are primarily oriented toward and benefiting the middle class. In addition, they assert that the corporate tax cuts are primarily designed not to increase corporate profits and shareholder value but to create new jobs and to bring money back from overseas for investment here and accordingly have named the tax plan the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”
That’s the populist rhetoric. But, when one looks at both the Senate and House versions of the bill the plutocratic reality becomes apparent.
The major beneficiaries of the proposed tax legislation are the wealthy and the powerful. The Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office project that under the Senate version of the bill, in 10 years those earning between $50,000 and $75,000 would pay $4 billion more in taxes and those earning over $1 million would pay $5.8 billion less.
That’s just the tip of the plutocratic iceberg. The Senate bill doubles the exemption on the estate tax to $11 million tax free. The House eliminates the estate tax altogether in 2024.
The House bill repealed the alternative minimum tax while the Senate maintains it. The Senate bill has seven tax brackets and lowers the top rate as opposed to the House bill which has four brackets and keeps the top rate the same.
Finally, the Senate bill allows the owners of pass-through businesses to deduct 23 percent of their income before paying taxes on it.
Make no mistake about it – there is something for everyone in the Republican tax bill as long as those “everyone’s” are part of the privileged class.
That brings us to Republican propaganda and the proposed tax cuts for corporations. The Republican’s tax plan calls for reducing the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent.
As noted earlier, the justification for those cuts is that they will lead to job creation, investments and the potential for wage increases. While that is the hope, there is absolutely no guarantee of this occurring.
In fact, there is considerable skepticism and little evidence that past cuts have produced those results. For example, based upon its research, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that “…about 70 percent of the benefit of a corporate rate cut ultimately flows to the top fifth of households and more than a third flows to the top 1 percent.” Based upon studying the tax cuts during George W. Bush’s tenure as President, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “…only 17 percent of the revenue from income tax cuts was regained and 50 percent of the revenue lost from corporate tax cuts.”
The Republican propaganda extends to characterizing the drafting and passage of the tax plan in the Senate as the result of regular order. Even John McCain, who took a courageous stand against the legislation to repeal of Obamacare because it did not adhere to regular order in its development succumbed to stating the tax bill was created through a return to “normal legislative processes.”
McCain might be correct if the regular order for the Senate now is considered to be disorder and incoherence. The tax plan was created by one side controlling everything and with legislators voting on a bill with last minute hand written changes on it that few had time to review let alone to reflect on the entirety of the legislative package.
This rush to judgment led legislative scholars Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein to pen an opinion piece for the New York Times titled “How the Republicans Broke Congress.” In that piece, Mann and Ornstein proclaim,
Eleven years ago we published a book called The Broken Branch which we subtitled “How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track.” Embedded in that subtitle were two assumptions: first, that Congress as an institution – which is to say both parties equally – is at fault; and second, that the solution is readily at hand. In 2017, the Republicans’ scandalous tax bill is only the latest proof that both assumptions are wrong.
We concur with Mann and Ornstein’s assessment.
The old saying is to the victors go the spoils. The Republicans have claimed victory with their tax plan and spoils for themselves and a select group of their elite supporters. There are a few big winners but there are many losers.
This is not healthy for our democracy, the country or the majority of its citizens. In closing, therefore, we must call the question.
We must ask victory at what price. The answer sadly is: America’s future.