Making millionaires into billionaires: GOP tax cut
The tax cut trio: President Donald Trump smiles during a meeting on tax reform with Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. | Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON—Over objections of workers, unions, House Democrats, and even citizens shouting from the House spectators’ gallery, the GOP House majority jammed through what it thought would be the final version of the $1.5 trillion 10-year tax cut for the rich and corporations by a 227-203 vote.

But they’ll have to do it all over again on Dec. 20, because the Senate parliamentarian ruled several provisions violated budget rules and had to be stripped out. She didn’t say which ones.

The anger extended even to the House floor itself: The Hill reported that as Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., urged colleagues—in the windup speech—to pass the measure, a spectator interrupted.

“Today, we are giving the people of this country their money back. This is their money, after all,” Ryan said. The woman in the public gallery shouted: “You’re lying!”

Earlier, other visiting citizens shouted from the gallery, “Don’t kill us! Kill the bill!” presumably referring to the measure’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s small tax on people who don’t buy health insurance. That repeal, the bi-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation calculated, would cause up to 13 million people to drop health insurance and raise premiums for the rest by 10 percent.

The GOP, including the Republican-run Senate and President Donald Trump, touted the bill as a tax cut for the middle class, but the joint committee showed it would raise taxes on the poor and most of the middle class while giving more than 80 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent.

Two Wall Street firms again let the cat out of the bag the morning of the vote.

Asked what his bank would do with the windfall it gets from the bill’s centerpiece—cutting the announced corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent—Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan told CNN it would go into share buybacks, not adding jobs. And in a letter to its own investors, Goldman Sachs said it would reap $6 billion in tax breaks.

The Senate opened debate on the final bill on the afternoon of Dec. 19, expecting to approve it that night, despite the parliamentary glitch.

Unions and workers opposed the tax cut for the rich and corporations and mounted a last-ditch effort to convince three GOP senators to change their minds. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., enjoys—at best—a 51-48 vote edge on the tax cut: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a backer, is undergoing chemotherapy in Arizona. And whether ailing Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., will appear is unknown.

“If we can sway just three Republicans to stand with Democrats and oppose the tax plan, we can defeat this bill just like we defeated Trumpcare,” said Economic Policy Institute analyst Josh Bivens in an e-mail to supporters.

“A few of the truly disgusting aspects of the Trump tax scam are what it does for Donald Trump and his family, and multinational corporations that ship jobs overseas,” he continued. “If passed, the tax plan would:

— “Weaken the estate tax, which only impacts the richest 0.2% of Americans―including Trump’s family;

— “Lower tax rates on so-called “pass-throughs,” including hedge funds, private equity firms, and real estate limited liability corporations (LLCs)―like Trump’s;

— “And, reward corporations that have, for years, been dodging taxes―allowing them to repatriate offshore profits at lower rates, encouraging multinational corporations to continue shipping jobs and profits overseas.

“This bill will not create jobs or higher wages for working people as Republicans claim. It is nothing more than a massive handout to the wealthy and corporations on the backs of working families,” Bivens concluded.

Other unions and their allies said voters would remember next November. The AFL-CIO listed seven talking points for callers to use to lobby their lawmakers to kill the bill.

Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley called the tax bill “a sham.”

“Using the same dumb arguments that landed us in the Great Recession, they just put working and middle-class bus drivers, nurses, teachers and their families on the fast track to economic death row. The Congressional Budget Office says that by 2027, people making $40,000 to $50,000 would pay a combined $5.3 billion more in taxes. Meanwhile, rich people earning $1 million or more would get a combined $5.8 billion tax cut.

“Adding insult to injury, the bill calls for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for most people to have health insurance. This would leave 13 million people without insurance and drive up premiums for many others who are already struggling to afford coverage. Instead of moving to universalize healthcare, they’re moving to universalize medical poverty.

“Meanwhile corporate America and the 1 percent are cheering this bill. They will get even richer through massive and permanent corporate tax giveaways that make millionaires into billionaires while leaving the rest of America behind.”

Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, called the GOP tax cut “a cynical plan” which “willfully exploded the deficit to create the conditions to cut the Social Security and Medicare benefits we have earned over a lifetime of hard work.

“The 4.4 million members of the Alliance for Retired Americans are committed to holding the House members who voted for this accountable next November. We will not rest in exposing this scam tax bill.”

Congressional Democrats were similarly incensed.

“Americans will remember who cast their votes to raise taxes on 86 million middle-class households and heap another $1.5 trillion in deficits onto our children and our grandchildren. They will remember who cast their votes for a plan that gives 83 percent of its benefits to 1 percent of the American people. They will remember President Trump promised the middle class would get a tax cut and wealthy individuals like him would not, before turning his back on that promise. They will remember those who cast their votes to kick 13 million Americans off their health insurance coverage,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said.

“The GOP tax cut “prioritizes corporations and the wealthy over the middle class, sunsets individual tax cuts while making corporate cuts permanent, punishes local taxpayers by capping deductions for property and income taxes, fails to fix the trust fund that pays for roads and public transit, and adds more to a federal debt that is already out of control,” said Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., who tried unsuccessfully to craft a bipartisan compromise. “I have been speaking for years with colleagues from both sides of the aisle about how important it is for the future of the middle class that we pass transformative tax reform.  Unfortunately, this bill fails the middle class badly.”

A dozen Republicans, almost all from New York and New Jersey, voted against the GOP tax cut bill, because its elimination of the individual deduction for state and local taxes would clobber their constituents. Corporations, however, can still deduct those taxes.

“The people of New Jersey already carry an extremely heavy tax burden,” said veteran Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., a noted House committee chairman and thus part of the leadership. “They need and deserve tax cuts. Unfortunately, HR1 caps the federal deduction for state and local taxes which will lead to tax increases for far too many hardworking New Jersey families.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.