By now, we should be accustomed to the GOP’s preferred way of advancing legislation through the chambers of Congress: the bills are crafted behind closed doors, seemingly without any input from the constituents for whom the legislation is ostensibly created. In due time, the reason for the secrecy becomes apparent when the details of the bill are finally revealed to the public, at which point the GOP is faced with a massive public backlash.
Thus far in Trump’s presidency, this formula has not been a successful one. Invariably, the public outcry forces enough congressional Republicans to withdraw their support for the bill, most often in the form of very public attacks of conscience.
We’ve seen it before: as the vote itself draws nearer and the debate reaches a fever pitch, some Republican legislator or another releases a statement saying something along the lines of “After much careful consideration, I cannot in good conscience support a bill that does not do enough to benefit the people of [Insert State Here].” It’s worth noting, however, that were it not for the public outcry, most if not all of the bills that have been put forth in the dead of night would certainly have passed. It is something of a boon that for whatever reason, the GOP is still at least going through the motions of subjecting itself to public accountability.
Think about that for a moment: in the so-called greatest nation on Earth, a citizen like myself can look at the ongoing perversion of our legislative process by a political party whose sole purpose is to benefit the ultra-wealthy donor class and think, completely earnestly, “Well, at least they haven’t slipped into total authoritarianism”? How low have we allowed the bar to fall that the mere pretense of transparency from our elected officials is considered acceptable?
But I digress.
Though this legislative strategy has not yielded any meaningful results thus far for the GOP, the party shows no signs of abandoning it. It would seem to me that Republicans might stand a better chance of reaching at least some of their legislative goals if they worked with their colleagues across the aisle. To do so, however, would require compromise, and if you’ve turned on Fox News anytime in the past decade or so, you know that there’s nothing more toxic to a conservative’s chances of re-election than to yield even an inch of ground to the hated Democrats.
The latest effort from the GOP is their tax bills — one is in the House, one is in the Senate, because apparently when throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks doesn’t work, the obvious next step is to throw double the amount of shit. Like almost everything that’s come before it, the Republican tax bills are rooted in the idea of trickle-down economics; that is, the notion that when the rich and corporations receive tax cuts, they decide out of the kindness of their hearts to pass that extra money along to the less wealthy. Fun fact: trickle-down economics has also been described as “horse-and-sparrow” economics, because “if you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.”
The bills, according to the New York Times, amounts to $1.5 trillion of cuts, the purpose of which is to increase employment numbers and provide a boost to economic growth. This, of course, begs the question: why do we need to increase employment numbers when, according to Trump, the economy and the job market is stronger than ever post-9/11? It’s almost as though Trump is — dare I say it — not the effective president he would like us to believe he is. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “What’s the big deal? So they pass some tax cuts — if they don’t work, no harm done.” The problem is, these tax bills aren’t just about taxes.
These bills, for lack of a better term, are a mulligan for the GOP. Congressional Republicans are packing these tax bills with a smorgasbord of items on the standard conservative wish list — some are tax-related, but an alarmingly large amount of them are not. In fact, these bills contain all kinds of legislation that have almost nothing to do with taxation. For example, the House bill lifts a ban, first enacted in 1954, on churches engaging in political activism, and for good measure, it also throws in the option for parents to designate a “child in utero” as a beneficiary of a college savings plan. However, the provision also makes clear that “A child in utero means a member of the species Homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.” In other words, it’s precisely the kind of definition that could be used down the line to pass broader bans on abortions.
As if that weren’t enough, the Senate’s version of the bill also eliminates the federal deduction for state and local taxes. The way things currently stand, when you pay state and local taxes, that amount is not counted towards your total income; in other words, the federal government doesn’t double-tax you on income that you never even received because it went right to the state.
Under the Senate version of the bill, however, that deduction would be eliminated, which would make it more difficult for states and local governments to levy their own taxes. And when it’s harder for states to collect money, it means they have less to spend on things like, say, social services, healthcare, and education. It’s an end-around to stripping valuable elements of the social safety net from those who need it most, without having to go through the trouble of — or face the public backlash from — crafting a new “Let Poor People Die” bill that probably wouldn’t pass.
This bill is one of two things. On the one hand, it might simply be a case of Republicans attempting to appease the myriad conservative voting blocs who have been disappointed by the GOP’s various failed attempts to follow through on years of promises. On the other, it could represent something far more sinister: a new strategy to pack in as many harmful provisions into one bill as possible, knowing that some are bound to make their way through to law.
For the good of the country, let’s hope it’s the former.