A colossal act of cruelty

December 4, 2017

The Republicans' declaration of class war in the form of a massive tax giveaway to the rich and big business is very unpopular--but resistance has to be mobilized.

"IT ISN'T enough that I succeed. All others must fail."

Donald Trump and the Republicans have taken the words of 12th century emperor Genghis Khan to heart--if the word "heart" can be used in connection with anyone who supported the act of class war passed by the Senate in the early-morning hours of last Saturday.

The Republicans' tax cut legislation isn't just about making the rich and their corporations that much richer--it is coldly calculated to punish the working class and the poor, too.

The commonly reported $1.4 trillion price tag for the legislation is staggering enough, but doesn't fully capture what the Republicans are trying to do.

Actually, the legislation aims to cut taxes collected by the federal treasury by around $6 trillion over 10 years. To get to $1.4 trillion, Republicans have piled on more than $4.5 trillion in tax increases. As Ryan Grim wrote at the Intercept:

[T]he key question is who gets a tax hike and who gets a tax cut. Put simply, the bulk of the tax cut is going toward the rich, while the tax increases go to everybody else. And so the bill, properly described, is two things: the largest tax cut--and also the biggest tax increase--in American history.

Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump on Capitol Hill
Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump on Capitol Hill

Inequality in the United States is at record levels. As of last year, the richest 1 percent of households controlled 38.6 percent of all wealth in the U.S., while the bottom 90 percent of the population combined was worth barely half as much. Judged by income, the "world's greatest democracy" is more unequal than at any time in a century and a half.

Yet Republicans have chosen this moment to drive through tax cuts that will super-size inequality.

The tax cut legislation is very unpopular--less than one-third of people support the Republican proposals, according to opinion polls. But Trump and Congress are united around this issue like no other and determined to deliver this bonanza for the super-rich, no matter the consequences.

Our side can't be stunned into silence by this class-war onslaught. We need to show some determination of our own--using every opportunity to expose this Robin-Hood-in-reverse robbery for what it is and raise our voices in protest.

AFTER NEARLY a year of bumbling, Republicans in Congress have yet to accomplish their first major legislative initiative, despite having a majority in both the House and Senate.

So the days and hours before the early-morning Senate vote on Saturday were a whirlwind of bargaining and frantic deal-making to line up 50 Republican "yes" votes. The 479-page-long final version of the bill, distributed less than six hours before the vote, had amendments and changes written in by hand.

A few cherished items on the Republican wish list got nixed--for example, the estate tax, paid only by the rich on multimillion-dollar inheritances, wouldn't be repealed, only further limited--but the basic provisions to carry out a massive transfer of wealth upward survived intact.

The tax rate on corporate income would be cut by almost half to 20 percent, and individual income tax rates would drop temporarily. Many, though not all, households outside of the richest 10 percent would pay somewhat less in federal taxes for a few years, before seeing them rise later--while the very richest Americans would continue getting big payoffs throughout.

Meanwhile, the likely consequences of the bill include attempts to impose cuts in popular programs like Social Security and Medicare and a further crisis of the health care system caused by the repeal of the Obamacare mandate requiring individuals to buy insurance.

The twisted priorities of the Republicans, already clear for weeks, were on full display in the last-minute additions to the bill.

For example, a proposal by Sens. Marco Rubio and Mike Lee to expand the child tax credit for low-income families at a cost of taking away less than 1 percentage point from the corporate tax rate reduction was opposed by most fellow Republicans--but when Sen. Ted Cruz put forward an amendment benefiting the rich by extending the tax advantages of 529 college savings accounts to pay for private-school tuition at the elementary level, Republicans were all on board, and Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie in favor of the proposal.

Donald Trump's all-caps enthusiasm via Twitter repeated the usual justification for such a naked giveaway to the rich: "The enactment of a comprehensive overhaul--complete with a lower corporate tax rate--will IGNITE our ECONOMY with levels of GROWTH not SEEN IN GENERATIONS..."

But not even Congress's nonpartisan analysts are buying that tired lie: The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the tax cuts would add less than 0.1 percent annually to U.S. economic growth over 10 years.

When the University of Chicago surveyed 38 mainstream economists about the Republican tax proposals last month, only one predicted that GDP would increase substantially as a result of their passage.

On the other hand, every single one of the 38 thought the U.S. national debt would be significantly higher relative to GDP if the tax legislation passed.

That's the less-talked-about follow-up blow in the Republicans' one-two combination: Big business and the rich would get their tax-cut windfall now--plus the justification later, in the form of a ballooning deficit, to further slash any federal government spending that doesn't primarily benefit them.

IF ANYONE thought that some combination of forces within the Washington system would stand up to the Senate's post-midnight money grab for the rich, they were wrong.

Earlier this year, some liberals celebrated the handful of Republican senators who opposed the drive to "repeal and replace" Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act with legislation that would have wrecked the Medicaid health care program for the poor and left millions more people without health insurance.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, in particular, won praise for casting the deciding vote that defeated the last attempt at passing Trumpcare in the Senate.

This time around, though, McCain supported the Republican tax bill--even though the GOP leadership smuggled in the very attack on Obamacare that McCain had voted against.

Why the about-face? As John Schwartz pointed out for the Intercept: "[T]he tax bill does differ from the attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act in one key aspect: It directly benefits McCain and his family" with its benefits for multimillionaires like liquor industry baron Cindy McCain.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats opposed the Republican tax legislation with occasionally impassioned speeches--but didn't do anything to champion a more-than-rhetorical opposition that could have put real pressure on vulnerable Republicans.

Though the Democrats' liberal base is furiously against the tax-cut rip-off, the party leadership and apparatus is more muted. After all, to get elected to the Senate, top Democrats need support from the same wealthy individual and corporate contributors that the Republican tax bill was written to benefit.

For many Democratic senators, it doesn't pay--literally--to be too loudly opposed, particularly on the core provisions of tax-cut giveaways to business.

Then there's the cynical calculation that the Democrats will be in a better position for the 2018 midterm elections if Trump and the Republicans force through unpopular legislation. Thus, the twisted logic of one comment at the PoliticalWire.com website: "If I were the campaign manager of a Democratic candidate running for Congress in 2018, I would be praying this bill passes."

If it does, expect the Democrats to promise--publicly at least--to repeal the tax cuts. But as Jon Walker wrote at the ShadowProof.com website: "History has shown if Republicans push through tax cuts for the rich, or to advance corporate policy, Democrats are unlikely to ever undo most of them. This makes the temporary wane in support [for Republicans] a long-term reward."

Remember the last major Republican tax cut scam under George W. Bush? Barack Obama campaigned for president in 2008 on the promise to rescind the Bush-era tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year.

But when the Bush tax cuts were about to expire, Obama made a deal with Republicans to temporarily extend the tax breaks--even though the Democrats still had a majority in both the House and Senate. Two years later, in 2012, Obama agreed to make most of the Bush-era tax cuts permanent and only raise taxes on those making more than $400,000 a year.

THIS WEEK, Senate and House Republicans will establish a conference committee to negotiate over the differences between the House and Senate versions of the tax bill.

It isn't a surefire lock that the eventual "reconciliation" will get majority votes in both houses. The reactionary fanatics of the Freedom Caucus members of the House might rebel against "concessions" made by Senate Republican leaders to close the deal last week.

More likely is for House reactionaries to pack the "compromise" with more than wavering Republican senators will tolerate--like Maine's Susan Collins, who claimed her "yes" vote depends on both Republican-dominated houses of Congress passing bipartisan legislation to bolster the Obamacare system, even as the Senate tax bill undermines it.

The Republicans have little margin for error in the Senate--two votes, to be precise.

But no one should depend on any pangs of conscience from Republican "moderates." Whether or not they're conflicted in any way, every GOP lawmaker understands that the party will have nothing significant to show to either its big business donors or its right-wing base for two years in power if they can't first deliver on the tax cut bill.

The sad and discouraging fact is that the Republican right has had the advantage throughout this battle, and still do. But that advantage was never as sturdy as either side believed.

If the Democrats or the mass organizations politically tied to it, like organized labor, had thrown their resources into a grassroots mobilization against the Republican tax fraud, it would have put intense pressure on GOP lawmakers like Collins, who fear being held responsible for the most extreme planks of the Republican right's agenda.

As it is, there were vibrant protests against the tax cut legislation, particularly among graduate student employees, many of them with little previously existing organization.

We have an opportunity in the next few weeks to throw our efforts into the fight against the Republican tax-cut rip-off, in support of graduate students and anyone else who want to challenge this atrocity.

We might not win if we fight--but we definitely won't if we never fight at all. And whatever the outcome, the example we set now can help build a stronger resistance for the future.

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