An incredibly unpopular bill, passed by an incredibly unpopular Congress, to be signed by an incredibly unpopular president.
That, to paraphrase a Washington Post headline, is the tax bill that the House and Senate are cooking up on Capitol Hill.
Adjustments are still being made to satisfy one interest group or another, but the gist of the thing is set: Corporations and wealthy Americans will benefit enormously from historic cuts in income taxes. The tax cuts that President Donald Trump promised the “forgotten man” that he conjures at his campaign rallies will be minimal, if they exist at all; many people in lower and middle brackets will actually see their taxes raised.
The Republicans are getting ready to celebrate their first legislative win under Trump – although most Americans (53 percent) disapprove of the bill, and only 35 percent approve, according to a CBS News poll released Thursday.
Nor are Americans buying the GOP’s big arguments for this monstrosity. Only 31 percent said it would help the middle class. Just 28 percent said they believed businesses would create more jobs once their taxes are slashed.
How does this happen? How do members of Congress, who are supposed to be representatives of the people, pass a bill so detrimental to the great majority of the people? Rush it through without hearings or enough time for members to read it, or to even clean up the handwritten scribbles of lobbyists in the margins of the document? Not to mention, without a single Democratic vote.
And it’s contributions, for the win
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, was one of several Republicans in Congress who confessed why they were so terribly desperate to pass such a terrible bill: If we don’t pass this, “the financial contributions will stop.”
Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York, told a reporter, “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’”
Let’s think about that. The donors — the biggest corporations in the land, along with conservative billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson — are holding the strings. The puppets admitted it.
Donald Trump, his public approval rating currently at a dismal 32 percent, lower than the past five presidents at this point, is poised to sign whatever Congress produces to be able to brag about posting “a win,” all the while lying about the bill’s contents, spewing such obvious untruths as that neither he nor his family stand to personally benefit when the alternative minimum tax and estate tax go away.
And now the plutocrats, not content with distorting the tax code to grab as much money as they can for themselves out of the pockets of middle-class Americans, are in sight of their Great White Whale: their decades-old dream of demolishing the New Deal and Great Society.
“The vision is one of an America that’s more unequal and more cruel, where the wealthy and powerful accrue more wealth and power, and the rest of us find more obstacles in our way,” writes Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman. “In other words, ‘freedom.’ ”
A return to ‘voodoo economics’
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio gave the game away last month. In order to pay for the $1 trillion deficit the new tax cuts will engender, he said cutbacks will be necessary in Social Security and Medicare. House Speaker and Ayn Rand idolater Paul Ryan, practically smacking his lips at the prospect, said he’ll aim next year at reducing spending on federal health care and anti-poverty programs.
This all goes back to the GOP patron saint, President Ronald Reagan. He sold much of the country on the once-fringe idea that government wasn’t the solution to problems, it was the problem. And he gave us trickle-down economics, the fantasy that if you cut taxes for corporations and wealthy individuals deeply enough, the resulting economic activity will be so great that the federal government will recover any losses through a more robust collection of taxes.
This theory — dubbed “voodoo economics” by none other than President George H.W. Bush — has never worked, but so what? Making government work isn’t really the goal. Right-wing tax strategist Grover Norquist said it a couple of decades ago: He wanted to shrink the federal government to where he could drag it into a bathtub, and drown it.
Things have changed since Reagan’s day. Fox News and other right-wing outlets have risen to cement Reaganesque ideas squarely in the center of American political discourse. Republicans’ sophisticated use of computer programs turned redistricting into a tool to ensure GOP majorities in state legislatures and the House of Representatives, even where more voters are Democrats and Independents. They’re pushing specious claims of voter fraud in hopes of suppressing the votes of poor people and people of color from overwhelming them at the polls.
American democracy for sale
And in 2010 came Citizens United, the bonkers U.S. Supreme Court decision that equated campaign contributions with speech and, therefore, resistant to government restrictions. Justice John Paul Stevens, prescient in dissent, warned that the 5-4 ruling “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation.”
“A democracy,” Stevens said, “cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”
Man, did he nail it. With restrictions on campaign cash effectively destroyed, along with restrictions on “dark money” — anonymous contributions — the super-wealthy can now fling as much money as they want to the politicians they want.
And who were these wealthy? People with oil and gas interests who want to see an end to environmental laws. Wall Streeters wanting an end to limits on big-profit financial shenanigans. The super-wealthy who lust for an end to the estate tax, a windfall averaging more than $3 million apiece for the top 0.2 percent. The estate tax was designed to curb the perpetuation of inherited wealth, an American version of European privilege decried by President Teddy Roosevelt.
Take a good look at your system of government, America. We celebrate representative democracy, hold it up as a model to other countries everywhere. But it is slipping away from us.
The flood of cash into politics, long a problem but never on this scale, has made at least one of our political parties the servant of the comfortable few, carrying out their policies at the expense of the increasingly irrelevant majority.
It’s the money against the many. And the money is way ahead.
How do members of Congress, who are supposed to be representatives of the people, pass a bill so detrimental to the great majority of the people?