Why We All Should Be Sick and Tired of This Tax Debate

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Senators Debbie Stabenow, ranking member Ron Wyden, Chairman Orrin Hatch, and Chuck Grassley participate in the Senate Finance Committee markup of the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" on November 15, 2017.

Orrin Hatch is sick and tired, and so am I. Hatch, however, has the benefit of knowing that his illness and fatigue will soon be relieved by the soothing balm of victory, as the Republican Party fulfills its most profound and deeply revered purpose and delivers a tax cut to corporations and wealthy people.

It was Thursday night, not long before the Senate Finance Committee passed its version of the Republican tax cut bill, when Hatch and Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown got in a spirited exchange that began with Brown's assertion that the tax bill is not, as Republicans contend, all about helping the middle class, but instead bestows its greatest bounty on corporations and the rich. Hatch took spectacular umbrage to this charge, to the point where his language got a little blue (for a Mormon from Utah, anyway). "I come from the poor people," he said, "and I have been here working my whole stinking career for people who don't have a chance, and I really resent anybody who says I'm just doing this for the rich—give me a break. I think you guys overplay that all the time and it gets old. And frankly you ought to quit it." Growing angrier, Hatch went on, "I come from the lower-middle class originally. We didn't have anything, so don't spew that stuff on me. I get a little tired of that crap."

A logician might counter that Hatch's experience of poverty during the Depression is proof of precisely nothing when the question is what's in the GOP tax bill. But all the same, he's sick and tired of hearing that Republicans favor the rich. How dare Democrats keep repeating that foul calumny?

It might surprise Hatch to learn that as a liberal, I'm also sick and tired of the charge that the Republican tax plan is a gift to those who need it least. But I'm sick and tired of being forced to say it over and over again, with little apparent effect. I'm sick and tired of pointing out the impossibly audacious falsehoods Republicans tell about taxes. I'm sick and tired of having what so often feels like an endlessly repeating debate that ends the way everyone knows it will. Let's lay out the steps:

  1. Republicans lie about their tax cut plan.

  2. Republicans pass their plan.

  3. Their plan contains exactly what liberals and Democrats say it does.

  4. Their plan has none of the glorious trickle-down effects Republicans claimed it would.

  5. The next time Republicans take power, we repeat this whole cycle again.

If that's not enough to make you sick and tired, what would be?

We should acknowledge that the 2017 iteration of the pattern is somewhat different than others, because Republicans have made a genuine attempt at "reform." Unlike, for instance, the Bush tax cuts, they didn't just give a huge windfall the wealthy, toss some crumbs at everyone else, and say "Everybody got a tax cut." They're making a large number of changes to the tax system, changes that affect people at every income level. The result is that while their bill is (of course) exceptionally generous to those at the top, it's also uncommonly cruel to millions of other Americans, not just leaving them out of the feast taking place in the penthouse suite but making them pay for the entrees.

That's because this "tax cut" is actually a tax increase for millions of Americans. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress' official scorekeeper on tax issues, the Senate's version of the bill would increase taxes on all income groups making under $75,000 per year. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy says the bill would increase taxes on 29 percent of Americans. The House bill is in some ways even worse.

But of course, they assure us that all we need do is wait for trickle-down economics to weave its magical spell and transform the wealthy's bonanza into prosperity for all. Even if corporations are making near-record profits and sitting on trillions of dollars in cash, if we give them a tax cut they'll suddenly decide to raise everyone's wages. And we all know how important it is to eliminate the estate tax, lest Eric Trump one day have to pay taxes on his inheritance. Just imagine how that would hold back the economy.

I'll be honest: I'm getting pretty tired of refuting these asinine arguments, which Republicans can barely manage to make with a straight face. I take only so much solace from the fact that most Americans don't buy what Republicans are selling; polls show that majorities oppose the GOP plan and understand that it favors the wealthy.

But what really makes me sick and tired is that it won't matter. One way or another they'll assemble the votes, both because this is what they live for and because they've convinced themselves that if they don't pass this bill then their base will abandon them and they'll be wiped out in the 2018 elections. Then no matter what happens—an economic boom, another recession, or anything in betweenthey'll say that it proves that what we need is yet more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. And we'll have to keep having this argument for the rest of our lives. 

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