Fight goes on against Republican tax cut for the rich
A protest against the GOP's tax plan outside the U.S. Capitol in November. Though the Senate and House have both passed their own versions of tax reform, the bills must now be reconciled before going to Trump. | Tax March

WASHINGTON—For unions, grad students, and even some congressional Democrats, the fight against the GOP tax cut for the rich and big business continues. And they have several more chances to derail the scheme.

To further that effort, one tax bill foe, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., took to the road after the Senate’s 51-49 party-line vote at 2 am on Dec. 2. He hit stops in the Midwest to agitate against it as a giveaway to the rich and to activate the legions who first joined his 2016 Democratic presidential campaign.

Other foes cited Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who forecast lawmakers would have to make up the bill’s $1.5 trillion budget-busting hole by raising the Social Security retirement age—thus cutting benefits—and cutting Medicare, too. But though his state houses huge numbers of elderly, Rubio voted for the tax cut bill, even though it eliminates the taxpayer deduction for medical expenses.

Union leaders denounced the measure, and 200 unionized graduate student research assistants and teaching assistants at the University of Minnesota hit the streets against the tax cut.

That’s because, to help stanch the red ink, the GOP decided to tax not just their stipends—which are already low—but the presumed value of their education, now tuition-free in exchange for their labor. Since tuition is tens of thousands of dollars a year, the RAs and TAs would be looking at big tax bills, and no money to pay for them, or at dropping out.

Two workers, a disability rights advocate, and a veteran started a sit-in at the Bangor, Maine, office of GOP Sen. Susan Collins at 4 pm on Dec. 4. They insisted Collins vote against the tax cut bill when it comes up again—and prepared for non-violent civil disobedience and potential arrest to make the point.

Though the GOP-run House and Senate both passed the tax cut for the rich and big business, they must now reconcile the two versions and then approve the agreed-upon text before it can go to Trump’s desk. With the first vote in that sequence scheduled for the House on Dec. 4 after 6 pm, and later votes this month if bargainers reach an agreement, foes of the tax bill had more chances to lobby against it.

The country’s two teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, took up the cause. The lawmakers, especially the Senate, “threw the middle class under the bus,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

“Because the House and Senate passed different versions, we still have a chance to stop it before a final vote,” she explained. “There are already major divisions on things like the repeal of the Affordable Care Act individual mandate, deductions on healthcare and mortgage interest, the educator expenses credit, the federal deficit, and how permanent these tax cuts would be.

Those who supported this bill know the more Americans know about it, the more unpopular it will be. See how your members of Congress voted and send them a message,” Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher, said.

“President Trump and Senate Republicans have shut ‘we the people’ out of our government…to serve the interests of donors and big corporations. We must keep up the momentum to make sure our elected officials know that a vote for this tax bill is a vote against the middle class and working Americans. Write your members of Congress now.”

NEA President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, an elementary school teacher from Salt Lake City, added the tax cut bill will harm public schools, as well as parents and families. That’s because it repeals the state and local tax deduction individual taxpayers can take—and which helps states pay for schools. Utah’s senators, both Republicans, turned a deaf ear.

So she turned to her union’s 3 million members nationwide for lobbying against this “massive tax giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations paid for by students and working families.

“In addition to adding $1.5 trillion to the national deficit, the Senate voted to partially repeal the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which would leave 13 million Americans uninsured and result in drastic spikes in insurance premiums for millions more.

“The bill also expands an education tax loophole that would further benefit the wealthy by allowing them to set aside money for private school expenses—essentially a voucher program for wealthy families.” Repeal of the state and local deduction could force states to cut 250,000 teaching jobs, Eskelsen-Garcia said, citing outside studies.

“You can help push back against this awful plan. Call your members of Congress now,” Eskelsen-Garcia urged. Tell them to VOTE NO on the Republican tax bill. Tell them you will not stand for a massive tax giveaway to the wealthy and corporations paid for by working families and students.”

Workday Minnesota reported 200 TAs and RAs from the University of Minnesota protested in the Twin Cities, led by grad student workers at the University of Minnesota. “It would count graduate tuition waivers as taxable income,” said Kristiana Wright, a member of Grads United. “That is money that we never received … that we do not control.”

“If this tax were made law, it would cause a crisis in graduate education. It would force many of us, especially the most marginalized and vulnerable among us, to seriously consider dropping out of school…. We must do everything in our power to stop this tuition tax and demand that Congress kill this bill!” Marchers’ signs included slogans such as “No tuition tax” and “Abolish the corporate university.”

Besides Weingarten and Eskelsen-Garcia, other union leaders denounced the bill, without calling for particular action now. But Communications Workers President Chris Shelton promised his union would remind members of how their lawmakers voted all the way through November.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called it “an attack on America’s workers. We will pay more. Corporations and billionaires will pay less. It’s a job killer. It gives billions of tax giveaways to big corporations that outsource jobs and profits.”

“President Trump said he wanted to lower taxes for everyone as a Christmas gift to America, but this bill is simply a lump of coal to working families across the country. The only real gift is the major tax giveaways to Wall Street, big corporations and the super-rich, when what our country needs is investment in our schools and infrastructures that creates jobs.”

CWA President Chris Shelton said the “tax plan is upside down. Instead of making working families pay more for tax breaks for the corporations and the wealthiest Americans, we should be closing the loopholes Wall Street will continue to use” and use that money for infrastructure, schools, and to “make sure corporations keep good jobs here in the U.S., instead of opening up new loopholes that encourage the offshoring of jobs, as this tax plan does.”

CWA will emphasize those points in the 11 months before next year’s election, he added.

Nurse Erin Oberson, veteran Jim Betts, disability rights activist Tina Davidson, and electrician Nick Paquet emphasized those points immediately in their Bangor sit-in.

“The Republican tax plan gives massive tax cuts to the wealthiest and big corporations, takes healthcare away from thousands of Mainers and raises premium on thousands more, and would deepen student debt. The bill makes deep cuts to Medicare, lays the groundwork for future cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and facilitates the outsourcing of Maine jobs overseas,” their spokeswoman, Sarah Bigney of the Maine AFL-CIO, said. Collins, who had been undecided, provided a key vote for the GOP tax cut bill.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders denounced both the House and Senate tax cut bills as “a raw deal’ for workers and families. And repealing the Affordable Care Act’s $700 levy, designed to get people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, “adds insult to injury.

A sit-in is underway in the Bangor, Maine office of Sen. Susan Collins. Participants are demanding she reverse her support for the GOP tax cut plan. | Tax March

“Not only will millions of middle class families see their taxes go up, 13 million Americans will lose their health insurance—all so the biggest corporations and powerful elites can get tax cuts they don’t need and don’t deserve. Any claim this tax plan is designed to help working people is an absolute farce.”

Teamsters President Jim Hoffa pointed out yet another insult to workers in the tax cut bill: While it repeals the ACA tax on people who don’t buy health insurance, it keeps the “Cadillac tax” on people with high-cost, high-value health plans. That 40 percent tax, which workers and their allies strongly opposed in the ACA, now will start in 2020. Labor wants its complete repeal.

The union cited a pro-repeal letter from Reps. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., and Joe Courtney, D-Conn., and signed by 140 other lawmakers. “The policy is already having an impact,” the letter reads in part. “Large employers and labor unions are currently negotiating benefit packages that stretch into 2020, with many employers reporting that they are considering reducing the value of their health benefits to avoid this excise tax. We cannot wait to repeal it.”


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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