Braving cold, protesters against GOP tax giveaway to rich jam Capitol
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, center, embraces Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, as House and Senate conferees after GOP leaders announced they have forged an agreement on a sweeping overhaul of the nation's tax laws, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, looks on at far right. Democrats objected to the bill and asked that a final vote be delayed until Senator-elect Doug Jones of Alabama is seated. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

WASHINGTON—Despite a deep freeze which sent D.C. temperatures plunging to 5 degrees below zero, including the wind chill, hundreds of progressives and unionists rallied on Dec. 13 to again demand Congress deep-six the GOP’s tax cut for the rich.

And they didn’t stop out in the cold. Many poured inside, clogging hallways outside the offices of key swing Republican senators where they conducted massive acts of  peaceful civil disobedience against the ruling Republicans’ $1.5 trillion 10-year plan. With rare exceptions the mass actions were ignored by much of the major media.

Led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, the crowd braved the cold and alternated cheering the speakers with chants of “Kill the bill!” and – a new one – “No Jones, no vote!”

That referred to the victory the day before by Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Doug Jones in a special election in Alabama, reducing the GOP Senate edge to 51-49.  Jones’s win prompted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to scheme to hurry congressional bargainers to conclude a final version of the tax cut. McConnell was shooting for Dec. 15. The ruling Republicans can then jam the final bill through before Jones takes his seat in January.

The undemocratic rush job by the Republicans was in sharp contrast to what Democratic President Obama did when Republican Scott Walker won a special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat that had been held by Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy. As anxious as he was to pass the Affordable Care Act Obama called for delaying the Senate vote on the bill until Walker could take his seat.

The speakers yesterday took aim at various aspects of the GOP-pushed legislation, ranging from its tilt towards the rich and its 20 percent tax rate for companies to its huge new taxes on grad students. They also denounced what one sign succinctly summed up: GOP “LIE$” about the tax plan.

“We have to hold” the Republicans “accountable for the 87 million middle class families who will see tax increases” under the bill, Weingarten said.

“Hire our heroes,” Pelosi said, referring to a special program to train and hire returning military veterans. “Cross that off. Work opportunity grants. Cross that off. The list goes on and on…It’s a disgrace to this (U.S.) Capitol and it’s a disgrace to America.”

Sanders told the crowd the bill would reserve 62 percent of its tax cuts for the top 1 percent, and 42 percent of the cuts for the top one-tenth of 1 percent. Though Sanders, Wyden and Doggett are all among the Democratic negotiators, the Vermonter said they’d have no impact.

The GOP tax bill, he declared, “is a sham…written behind closed doors” by “5,000 corporate lobbyists.” The evidence, he pointed out, includes hastily penned-in sections added on the Senate floor designed to round up Republican votes by distributing corporate goodies.

“This is a giant lie wrapped within lies,” Doggett added. “Like they did with health care” repeal, the GOP lawmakers “want to keep it a secret as long as they can.” That goes for GOP President Donald Trump – a strong backer of the tax cut – and his cabinet, too.  “None of them have the personal courage to come over here and disclose this tax sham,” Doggett said of administration officials.

Warren said Jones’ Alabama win “sent a powerful message to Donald Trump, to the Republicans in Congress and to the entire country: We will fight back against bigotry and we will win.” She alerted the crowd to McConnell’s move to bypass Jones.

“Our message to Mitch McConnell is ‘No vote before Jones is sworn in,’” the Massachusetts firebrand declared, setting the crowd off on the “No Jones, no vote!” chant again.

“The Republicans know the longer this bill sees the light of day, the more people hate it,” Warren added. Public opinion polls back her up: The latest, from Marist College’s Institute of Public Opinion, released on Dec. 12, showed 52 percent think the tax cut bill will hurt their own family’s finances. That includes 78 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of independents, 22 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Trump supporters. Only 30 percent of all respondents say it will help them.

And 60 percent say the tax bill will hurt people making $50,000 a year or less. The same share says it will help the rich. U.S. median income – the point where half are above and half below – is $56,516, the latest data show. The median for women, regardless of age, tops out at $45,644 for women aged 35-44.

“The lobbyists for the rich and the richer know about this bill” and what it contains, Weingarten declared. “They wrote it.”

Wyden, top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee — where he lost all attempts to change or kill the tax bill on party-line votes – called the measure “a betrayal of the working class” and a gift to multi-national corporations. It also “put a dagger into the Affordable Care Act,” he said of a GOP provision to repeal the small $700 per person tax designed to get the uninsured to sign up.

Weingarten and Wyden were among the speakers who told the crowd they’d have to continue fighting the legislation, regardless of what happens to the tax cut bill by the end of 2017.

“This fight is not over this week. It’s not over this month. And it’s not over this election cycle,” she said. “How dare they not give a raise to working people? And when the American people need services, how dare they eliminate the state and local tax deduction?”  That helps states provide such services, she pointed out. “And how dare they make war on college students?”

The tax bill does so by taxing not just of the stipends the students – notably grad student teaching assistants and research assistants – receive, but the value of their tuition-free courses at colleges, which they receive for their work. Taxing those would force the TAs and RAs to drop out, because the tuition costs are tens of thousands of dollars they don’t have.

“I want all this etched in your mind,” Weingarten said. The Republicans “will say what they have to say, and they’ll be funded” in pro-tax cut ads “by the people who got the biggest tax breaks” from the Republican legislation.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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