Raising our voices against the tax-cut heist

December 18, 2017

Alan Maass and Hana Lee report on protests against the Republican tax-cut heist.

REPUBLICANS ARE boasting that they'll get away with their class-war tax cut bill this week--but it won't happen without demonstrations of anger and outrage from labor and other activists who know the stakes in this battle.

Last week, several wavering Republican senators announced they would be voting "yes" on a final version of the legislation after extracting minor concessions--nothing that changes the bill from being a massive theft on behalf of corporations and the very rich.

If they hold together, the Republicans would have the votes--barely--to push through their bill this week. But there's still a chance it could fall apart, like the GOP's "repeal and replace" health care fiasco this summer. One important factor will be whether the protests against the Republican tax-cut rip-off continue and strengthen this week.

On Tuesday, a coalition of local unions, including the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY, the New York State Nurses Association and the American Association of University Professors at Rutgers, and social movement organizations are planning an emergency demonstration on Wall Street in an attempt to "disrupt business as usual." Plans are in the works for similar protests in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in New York, and more cities around the country could come on board.

Protesters rally against the Republican tax bill outside the U.S. Capitol
Protesters rally against the Republican tax bill outside the U.S. Capitol

There have been spirited protests against the Republican tax-cut heist for the past several weeks. For example, in the Bay Area on December 15, some 75 people gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco to send a loud message of opposition to the legislation.

One group that has been prominent in organizing protests is graduate students and their organizations, and they appear to have pushed back one awful Republican proposal: A provision to tax tuition waivers for graduate students, which would make graduate school unaffordable for many, was stripped out of the reconciled bill.

Most of the attacks remain, however--including some affecting higher education: The legislation would tax university endowments, which are a prime source of funds for financial aid that poor and working-class students rely on to attend college.

This is no time to stop raising our voices in defiance of the Robin-Hood-in-reverse drive to steal from the poor to give to the rich.

UNFORTUNATELY, THE protests against the tax bill haven't grown past dozens and hundreds so far. The mainstream media, at least at the national level, barely acknowledge any actions, remaining focused on the backroom intrigues on Capitol Hill in Washington.

More frustratingly, the opposition of the Democratic Party has been limited to empty rhetoric. Party leaders could encourage the calls for protest, but don't. Most of the labor movement and mass liberal organizations have likewise failed to mobilize.

These politicians and organizations could have ratcheted up the pressure on vulnerable Republicans so they knew they would pay a steep price for supporting the bill. Instead, the Democrats confined themselves to making speeches, while telling the press there was little they could do. "Part of it was the context," said Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts. "[The Republicans] needed a victory."

That has left it to small groups of ordinary people--who recognize what a "victory" for Republicans will mean--to stand up to the tax-cut disaster.

At the San Francisco protest last Friday, speakers raised a range of issues beyond the tax cuts, including health care, women's rights, police brutality and ending wars. The rally was organized by a range of liberal and left groups, including the San Francisco Berniecrats, DSA San Francisco, the International Socialist Organization, Socialist Alternative Bay Area, San Francisco Queer Resistance and others.

Speakers were particularly focused on how the tax cut legislation would further harm working and poor people in the here and now.

This is especially true in San Francisco, where Silicon Valley mega-corporations are leading the way in pushing out ordinary people and causing record levels of homelessness. As Brad Chapin from the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club said, "People are being dehumanized by income inequality. We have a real sense of urgency as club members have been kicked out of the city."

THE CONFERENCE of House members and senators who worked out a final version of the tax cut legislation got rid of some of the most outrageous rip-offs and ideologically driven add-ons.

But no one should be fooled that this final version is anything less than deadly and destructive.

The centerpiece of the Republican proposal has always been cutting corporate taxes. The new rate rose by a single percentage point to 21 percent, but that's still a huge reduction over the current 35 percent--plus the rich people who own corporations got an added bonus compared to both earlier versions passed by the Senate and the House of a reduced marginal tax rate paid on annual income over $600,000.

That cut in individual income taxes for the rich appears to be a response to the complaints of Donald Trump's superrich pals who live in New York and other states that would be hit hard by ending the deduction for state and local income taxes and for mortgage interest payments. The Republicans ended up keeping a reduced deduction on these items, but gave the wealthiest households another tax break to make up for it.

The estate tax paid only by heirs of the super-richest Americans won't be eliminated entirely, but it will apply to fewer people for the next 10 years than it does already. Meanwhile, parents who send their kids to private school got an all-new tax break to use so-called 529 savings plans that are supposed to be used for college.

The legislation smuggles in one more attack on Obamacare with the elimination of the mandate requiring individuals to buy health insurance if they aren't covered by an employer or a government program.

What is the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate doing in tax legislation, you ask? Basically, the Republicans hope that lifting the mandate will lead to millions of people going without health insurance so the federal government won't have to pay subsidies to help some of them buy policies. The GOP needs this "savings"--to the tune of $300 billion over 10 years--to claim the deficit won't rise too much as a result of the tax bill.

This highlights the other side of the legislation that the media often miss as they tabulate the winners and the losers. Besides the bonanza for the rich and Corporate America through tax breaks, the government will have to make up for reduced revenues by whittling away at programs, like ACA subsidies, that are more likely to benefit working people and the poor.

No wonder the Republicans are more united around this legislation than any other, even "repeal and replace." A few GOP senators who claimed to have pangs of conscience were easily bought. Sen. Marco Rubio was satisfied with a very slightly higher cap on how much of the child tax credit can be refunded to lower-income households--but there was very little chance of him playing a "reengage" since he's voted against the Trump administration a total of two times all year.

The only way to stop the Republicans, so-called "moderates" and reactionaries alike, is to turn the widespread opposition to the tax-cut rip-off--only around one-quarter of people support the legislation, according to polls--into concrete action.

We have to keep standing for what's right against Trump and the Republicans as the tax-cut votes approach--and prepare for the struggles to come, regardless of the outcome.

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