The way Congress maniacally sped through passage of the GOP’s massive tax cut bill brought to mind a wealthy politician considering a trip on the world’s largest and most luxurious ocean liner. He has a bad feeling about the Titanic but rushes to book the last cabin anyway.
He knows if the ship makes it to America, he’ll be in the most stylish of company. If, however, the trip takes a turn for the worse and he has to run for the lifeboats, he’ll still be OK.
With all the poor people around, surely he’ll be able to bribe his way onto a lifeboat. Failing that, he could always pull less powerful men, women and children out of the boat and throw them into the freezing ocean.
Less than a week before House and Senate Republicans passed the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso of Wyoming both wrote op-eds praising the bill that were published by the Casper Star-Tribune. They made it clear they were onboard the Titanic.
My initial thought was, “That’s a lot of ink to give two politicians to spread propaganda about a $1.5 trillion disaster.”
My second thought was focused on you, my readers. I figured the best holiday gift I can give you is to compare some of what Enzi and Barrasso wrote to reality and tell you the truth about what opponents of the act correctly labeled a tax-scam bill.
In his own words here are excerpts of what Enzi, our senior senator, claimed the bill is and what it isn’t:
“A recent survey of roughly 200 CEOs found that 82 percent of them said tax reform would lead to increased hiring and capital spending.”
At a Wall Street Journal event White House economic adviser Gary Cohn asked a roomful of CEOs if they planned to invest in their companies. Almost no one raised their hand, according to a report from Business Insider.
Enzi: “Recently, a group of more than 130 economists said: ‘The enactment of a comprehensive overhaul – complete with a lower corporate tax rate – will ignite our economy with levels of growth not seen in generations.’”
On Dec. 2, Forbes reprinted an article describing the group Enzi praised. It’s titled, “GOP’s List of Economists Backing Tax Cut Include Ghosts, Office Assistants, Ex-Felons and a Sprinkling of Real Economists.”
Eric Levitz of the Daily Intelligencer wrote about Republicans’ false promises of sensational economic growth: “Conservative economists know it — a rising tide might lift all boats, but a tsunami of sewage surely won’t.”
Enzi: “To be clear, the Senate bill does not cut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security or education funding. It does not just help the rich. It does not throw 13 million Americans off their health insurance. Furthermore, Senate Democrats were not cut out of the process.”
It’s true that the bill does not cut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security or education funding… yet. But Republicans who voted for it did so knowing experts forecast it will add about $1.4 trillion to the national deficit. Where do you expect they’ll turn when the bill comes due?
Senators Enzi and Barrasso — once entitled to, and proud to wear, the label “deficit hawk” — blasted Democrats the past eight years for wasteful spending. Their tax cut votes show they no longer care about exploding our debt, but just wait until they have to pay for it. It will all come back to them.
Republicans will pounce on programs like Medicare and Social Security that millions of low- and middle-class Americans depend on to survive. Many of the victims voted for Donald Trump because he promised these programs would not be cut during his watch.
The bill doesn’t just help the rich, but by far it helps them the most. Trump billed this as the biggest middle-class tax cut ever enacted, but according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center the richest 20 percent of households will reap 90 percent of the benefit of the tax cuts over the next decade. Corporate tax cuts will be permanent. The comparatively meager cuts for middle income Americans are set to expire.
Meanwhile, eliminating the health insurance mandate — a crafty little inclusion — sets the stage for up to 13 million people to lose their insurance. Without young, healthy participants drawn into the Affordable Care Act marketplace by the mandate, premiums will skyrocket, pricing out millions of the most vulnerable.
As for Sen. Enzi’s claim that Democrats were not shut out of the process, I can’t tell if he’s joking or purposely lying. Either way it fails the sniff test. Republicans in the House and Senate wrote and reconciled their respective bills alone, in secret, behind closed doors without any Democratic input. Is that the senator’s understanding of inclusion?
Meanwhile, in his op-ed Barrasso wrote, “More family farms, ranches and other small businesses will also be protected from the death tax.”
David First, a CPA at the accounting firm Marcum LLP, told CNBC that Trump’s plan streamlines the fortification of generational wealth, and “it will concentrate power in a few.” Those few will look a lot like Trump and his heirs, all of whom were born into wealth and privilege. Clearly this is exclusively a benefit to the super-wealthy. An estate must be $5.49 million or larger to qualify for the tax in the first place. I guess he knows a different class of farmers than I do.
The Tax Policy Center estimates 10,800 estate returns were filed in 2015 and only about half were taxable. Still, the amount of tax collected on just those returns was over $18 billion. That’s a staggering amount of money, and power, that will now be concentrated in a small number of already entitled hands.
Barrasso also wrote, “We still need Washington to get smarter.” I readily grant him this point.
Wyoming’s two U.S. senators were obviously proud of the tax cut, as evidenced by their appearance at the White House celebration where officials heaped praise on Trump. The award for most nauseating sycophancy is a toss-up between House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) for calling the president’s leadership “exquisite” and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) declaring, “We’re going to make this the greatest presidency that we’ve seen, not only in generations, but maybe ever.”
But if they are so delighted with themselves for giving Trump his first legislative “victory” after nearly a year in office, why did the Senate vote on the bill in the middle of the night? If it was legislation the public was guaranteed to like because it treats them so well, why wouldn’t Congress hold any public hearings or allow the bill to be debated?
The truth is that when the bill finally passed last Wednesday polls show only 24 percent of Americans viewed it favorably. The vast majority believed it overwhelmingly benefited the rich at the expense of the middle class, many of whom won’t ever see a tax cut from this law. For those who do, it will only be temporary and in the long run will likely increase the federal taxes they owe and reduce the services they will receive.
Oh, and that postcard sized tax return we were promised? That was a lie too.
And yet congressional Republicans are staking their future on an extremely unpopular bill that does almost nothing Trump promised. Historically, supply-side economics doesn’t result in more jobs or an improved economy. If you don’t believe it, look at the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush when they pinned their hopes on “trickle-down” economics.
I predict the Republicans’ unprecedented push to pass their tax cuts into law will turn out to be the biggest political miscalculation in the past century. The first midterm elections following the election of a new president almost always result in the loss of congressional seats for the party that controls the White House. This could be the biggest such loss in history, because there will be hell for the GOP to pay after middle-class Americans find out the monumentally negative impact of these tax cuts on the economy, health care, Social Security, Medicare and many social services programs designed as safety nets for the poor.
After nearly a year in total control of the federal government, Trump has filled his Cabinet with many people handpicked for the elimination of the department that has been entrusted to them. Congressional Republicans, either by design or ineptitude, have until now avoided advancing Trump’s dangerous agenda.
But now the GOP has handed total control of their party to Trump, and no matter what they say in front of TV cameras, or on the op-ed pages of Wyoming’s newspapers, I believe that stunning reality has most of them scared out of their minds.
If they aren’t, they should be. There simply aren’t enough lifeboats.