WASHINGTON - The GOP bill that should be called the Cut Taxes on President Trump and Other Very Rich People Act of 2017 always had a secondary purpose: to jack up the deficit so Republicans could later cry out in horror, “Look at that awful debt!” They’d then use the pools of red ink they created to justify deep cuts in social programs.
But people who call themselves conservative are shovelling out so much money so fast to corporations and the privileged that they needed some health care cuts upfront - at the expense of coverage for millions of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
And so on Tuesday, the Senate majority took an appalling bill and made it even more atrocious. To their ungainly concoction of tax breaks for the various interests that support them, they added the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, scrapping the mandate would reduce the number of Americans with health insurance by 13 million over a decade. To which the champions of redistributing money to the board rooms and the yacht clubs say: Oh, goody!
This cut-back in coverage would save the government $318 billion. The Republicans would use this money to pay part of the cost of making their corporate giveaways permanent, thus getting around budget rules. They also nudged up temporary personal income tax rate cuts and increased the child tax credit. The idea is to disguise just how much this bill tilts toward the wealthy.
It gets worse: The CBO says that ending the individual mandate would raise health insurance premiums by 10 percent - another way regular folks are being asked to cough up cash because of this bonanza for the well-heeled.
And while the child tax credit hike sounds good, it, too, helps the better-off more than lower-income Americans. Those who make less money can’t qualify for most of the new increase because they tend to pay little in income taxes (even as they often pay significant payroll taxes).
As Sharon Parrott of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted, “some 10 million children in low-income working families would get $75 or less.” On the other hand, she said, a “married couple with two children earning $500,000 would newly receive a full $4,000 child tax credit, even as many are getting additional tax cuts from other provisions.”
Then there is this sleight of hand: While the Senate bill makes the corporate tax cut permanent, it sets all the proposed reductions for individuals to expire at the end of 2025. This artificially decreases the short-term costs of the bill. If those tax cuts did expire, Americans in large numbers would eventually see their taxes go up under this deal.
Let’s take a step back and ponder the exceptional irresponsibility of what’s transpiring here. The same people who complained that more than a year of hearings, analysis and debate around Obamacare constituted “rushing” the bill are now recklessly spiriting through the system a gigantic piece of legislation that would touch all corners of the American economy.
They are changing it willy-nilly, day-by-day, to accommodate this or that political problem. They are rationalizing their thrown-together product with false claims about everything from whom it will benefit to how it will affect the long-term deficit. They are using a tax bill to punish their political enemies (people in high-tax blue states, major universities, low-income Americans) and reward their friends and donors (corporations and the very affluent).
And the allegations of outrageous past conduct by Roy Moore, their Senate candidate in Alabama, and the shifting stories about all things Russian from Attorney General Jeff Sessions are consuming so much media energy that these truly radical policies and procedural abuses are floating by with minimal public scrutiny.
We are told that there still are responsible Republicans. It’s to his credit that Sen. Ron Johnson, usually a reliable conservative, came out against the bill, citing its corporate bias. Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake have said they are concerned about the deficits this tax bill would create. Sens. John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski had the courage to block repeal of Obamacare. McCain has been especially eloquent about the need for “regular order.”
Well, responsible Republicans, your time has come. You have the power to say a loud no to cavalier, partisan legislating; no to budgetary folly; no to wrecking the health care law; and no to a bill that would impose real sacrifice on your constituents down the road. Yes, you’ll enrage your colleagues. But history will treat you better.
E.J. Dionne’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @EJDionne.