Tag Archives: deficit

GOP Tax Plan: A Complete Social Restructuring of the United States

4 Dec

Welcome to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, 500 pages of far-right dreams smashed together in two weeks and rushed to a vote in the middle of the night. While there is an enormous amount of this plan that we should all be mortified about — specifically how it hoards wealth for the top 20% of Americans and steals money from the poor and middle class — there is far more going on here, much of which has little to do with tax “reform.”  I worry that most people are not paying attention to everything it does over time, as evidenced by the fact that most of the people who voted to rush this through have not even read the whole plan, nor have there been any substantive hearings or analysis provided. This massive document is also difficult to read because much of the marginalia is hand written scribbles, eliminating even concerned senators’ ability to read and understand the implication of the entire document before voting on it.

In addition to the sociopathic maldistribution of wealth this plan secures, the social ramifications are profound and are antithetical to what we have worked so hard to accomplish in the ways of equity in the past 100 years.  For example, this plan includes Medicare reductions that will end cancer treatment for people on Medicare. Yes, you read that correctly. This sounds like a death panel to me, and it should not come as a surprise, given that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have been working to dismantle Medicare for years now. Oh, and as an added bonus it eliminates the Individual Mandate from the Affordable Care Act, basically robbing 13 MILLION Americans of coverage.

As outlined in the Chronicle of Higher Education, this bill creates even more barriers for people who are not in the top 20% of Americans to afford a college education. For example, this bill puts additional taxes on charitable donations to colleges that allow for financial aid. Small liberal arts colleges are heavily dependent on charitable gifts to survive. The message is quite clear, the GOP does not value education, as further evidence that Betsy DeVos is the secretary of Education. People do your homework here! Obviously, the lack of access to eduction benefits the GOP, as it encourages ignorance and precludes critical thinking skills: skills that would allow people to ask questions of the government, the people that are supposed to be public servants.

Another alarming part of this bill — so alarming I needed to get my smelling salts just to be able to write this — is the reversal of The Johnson Amendment. Yes, this is part of the Religious Freedom Act (specifically Christian agenda freedom) coming from the far right wing, which now controls our government. The Johnson Amendment, created by LBJ in 1954, prohibits all non-profits, or what is called a 501 (c) (3) from making any type of political endorsement or stand to lose their tax exempt status. Trump and his henchmen are now about to reverse this in this tax plan, but ONLY for churches, allowing them to become tax-free lobbying organizations. So much for separation of church and state.

The bill slashes the corporate tax rate, eliminates the bulk of the estate tax, and changes “pass-through” business taxation in a way that benefits only the wealthiest of business owners. These changes are PERMANENT. The tweaks that MIGHT make a small change for poor and middle class taxpayers expire within the first three years. At the end of ten years, the vast majority of households making $75,000 or less will see their taxes rise, often by 20% or more.

Many deductions are eliminated or severely curtailed including bike-to-work incentives, moving expenses, most mortgage and home sale deductions, tax preparation deductions, and disaster relief deductions. State and local tax deductions are greatly reduced, penalizing blue states that fund federal programs for red states.

The bill will increase the deficit by at LEAST $1 TRILLION. So much for the party of fiscal responsibility. Deficit hawks like Sen. Flake and Sen McCain (the Arizona Stooges) believe that wealth will trickle down as businesses have more revenue, even though EVERY major corporation interviewed has indicated that the vast majority of this revenue will be used to pay bonuses and reward stockholders, giving no benefit to the average American. Sen. Murkowski sold out her constituents in exchange for getting drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Yeah, that’s a tax issue… Sen. Collins accepted a fig leaf promise for a vote someday on an ACA bill that won’t come close to solving the problems caused by the loss of the individual mandate. Sens. Johnson and Daines pretended that minor changes to the pass-through rules would help small business owners. Overall, over 20% of Republican Senators had major objections to the bill but voted for it with vague changes and vaguer promises.

The most nefarious impact is yet to come. As that big deficit hole comes into reality, Republicans will certainly use it to insist on austerity measures. This is a feature, not a bug. As the deficit grows, they will insist that Social Security, medicaid, and medicare be slashed to balance the budget.

Our only hope for derailing this monstrosity is putting pressure on the conference process that will reconcile the House bill (awful in many different ways) with the Senate abomination. Getting the House to accept all the little tweaks and odditities may be difficult, and losing them may make the final bill impossible to pass again in the Senate.

TAKE ACTION: Contact your Representative and Senators and demand that they stop this horrible bill. It’s not tax “reform”, it won’t serve the middle class, it crushes the poor, and it includes elements that will reshape the social network and basic protections that we rely on today into something mean, nasty, and unrecognizable.

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Fiscal Cliff Notes: The Truth About Taxes

5 Dec
Warren Buffett: A Sensible BIllionaire

Warren Buffett: A Sensible BIllionaire

Almost as soon as the 2012 Presidential election was called for Barack Obama, the media and collective punditry turned their attention to another issue, the so-called “Fiscal Cliff.” (Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Picture Harry Reid and John Boehner driving a convertible armored car, Thelma and Louise style….) It’s important to dial back the drama and look at what’s really going on with the Federal budget. The current situation is called a cliff because of the steep reductions in the deficit that will be triggered if no other action is taken before December 31. Am I the only experiencing déjà vu here caused by obstructionist Republicans? Many automatic spending cuts will begin; various safety net and stimulus funds will diminish or end (such as unemployment benefits); tax rates for all Americans will go up.

Taxation is the issue which will matter the soonest and has become the sticking point in the current debate. The other issues ease in over the year with plenty of time for Congress to (re)consider them. Tax rates will go up on January paychecks.

President Obama campaigned — and WON — on a promise to keep taxes low for poor and middle class Americans and to restore slightly higher rates for the wealthiest 2% (albeit we still do not address those living in poverty the way we should, but I shall save that for another soap box opportunity). Under his plan, nearly $1 TRILLION in additional revenue would be realized by increasing the top rate by about 4% and the dividends rate by 5%. This will happen automatically when the Bush tax cuts end at the close of the year. Unfortunately, so will tax cuts for the other 98%, resulting in a relatively more painful income reduction for most families.

Sadly, because of the way the tax code is structured, the overall impact of the change is much worse the less you make. The New York Times has some wonderfully detailed charts that explain how this happens. It boils down to three things:

  • In general, higher earners rely less on wages and more on investments which are taxed at a lower level, so raising income taxes hits lower earners harder.
  • Payroll taxes are capped at about $100,000 of income, so earning more than that does not result in higher levels of these taxes, making the overall rate lower.
  • Corporate taxes, which are disproportionately borne by higher bracket payers (and then passed along to their customers…) are also historically low and are not even on the bargaining table.tax-rates

Teapublicans and Weeper In Chief Boehner whine that taxes are too high as it is and that raising them will hurt small businesses and job creation. The facts — and a little history — call them liars. Independent analysts note that less than 8% of small businesses would pay the higher tax rates. Even more significantly, a majority of small business owners in a recent poll expressed little concern over the tax rates. They are much more worried about changes in Medicare, which is a central element in the Republican plan.

The Times site mentioned above shows that taxes are lower than they’ve been in 30 years. In fact, as this handy chart demonstrates, Republican president Eisenhower left office with tax rates significantly higher and a booming economy. Tax reform is important, but it should heed the advice of Warren Buffett: a millionaire should pay a higher rate than should his or her (mostly his, by the way) employees.

Boehner can complain all he likes, but if he does nothing, everyone’s taxes will go up. The Senate passed a fair bill months ago that is languishing in the House. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, demonstrating true leadership again, is working on an administrative process to force it to a vote so that 98% of American’s can get the fairness they deserve. President Obama has made it clear that he’ll support the bill. Will the lame duck House allow petulance to trump action? It remains to be seen. One thing they should note: the majority of Americans will hold the GOP accountable if we start heading over the cliff.

Hero of the Week Award: April 13, Barney Frank

13 Apr

Rep. Barney Frank (D – MA) has never been one to mince words. This week he was particularly clear as he dismantled the chicanery that is the budget proposed by House Budget Chair Rep. Paul (I hate the 99%) Ryan (R – WI – of course). Reneging on every promise the House Republicans made during negotiations with the White House, Ryan’s plan is heavy on defense, light on needed tax reform, and brutal to the poor and needy (who cares about marginalized populations). For some reason, most of the media focus on his claims that he’s pushing needed belt tightening. Well, Barney Frank will have none of that. In an interview with TPM, he lays it out clearly.

It’s not deficit reduction when you increase military spending so that you can make up for that by cutting Medicare and Medicaid. That’s not budget reduction. That’s ideology. That’s the right wing. The other great scam for Ryan is to say, ‘Oh, I’m not going to help the rich people … I’m going to lower their rates and get rid of loopholes,’ although he doesn’t mention a single loophole that he’ll get rid of.

He’s also stern with the press, making the clear case that being independent of partisanship is very different from picking topics from both parties for “balance.”

Here’s the deal. The pundits don’t want to consider themselves to be siding with the Democrats. It’s important for their self-image that they be seen as centrist. The problem is the Republican Party has given them fewer and fewer things that they can identify with, because they’ve moved so far to the right. … So they have to find something they can support on the Republican side to maintain this self-image that they’re somehow independent of the parties. And so they pick up the Ryan budget.

Well said, Rep. Frank! After 30 years in the House, he has decided to retire and announced his forthcoming marriage to his long-time partner, James Ready.  Frank’s irascible wit and straightforward approach to politics will be sorely missed. We wish him much happiness in the next phase of his life. Who will pick up the torch and speak truth to power to help the disenfranchised?

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