Mike Littwin: Talking turkey about taxes is OK at holidays
November 25, 2017
Since we're well into Thanksgiving weekend, I've been searching for a column topic that is safe to discuss with your once-upon-a-time favorite relative. It's not easy.
So we definitely won't talk about Donald Trump vs. Lavar Ball/NFL kneelers/prominent African-Americans or Trump's push in favor of mall-stalker Roy Moore or Trump's support of women accusers except for those who have accused either him or anyone he likes. Or anything about Trump.
No, we'll go to something we can all agree on.
As you may have heard, there's a tax bill racing its way through Congress — actually several versions of a tax bill — that would purportedly deliver a huge tax break for the middle class. And yet, unaccountably, everyone hates it.
OK, not everyone. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, 25 percent of those surveyed approved of the tax bills. And 52 percent — which, yes, according to the math, is less than everyone — disapproved. But in these hyperpartisan times, that may be as close to unanimity as we're likely to get.
How could a tax cut be so unpopular? I think you know the answer. Most people recognize, even without understanding all the nuances of very complicated bills, that they're being lied to about who really gets the cut. They don't believe Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan or Donald Trump (wait, I said I wasn't going to mention Trump) or Cory Gardner, whose support for the Senate bill was booed lustily at his recent Pueblo town hall. They don't believe Mike Coffman or Ken Buck.
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Most people don't believe they'd be getting a tax cut for a simple reason: Why would they believe it?
They see that the bills offer $1.5 trillion in tax cuts — which is a lot of money even today — but that the greatest chunk of it goes to corporations and the rich people who own the corporations. The middle class would get a token, front-loaded cut that disappears altogether — poof — by 2027. Meanwhile, the deficit would explode and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, cuts to Medicare — yes, Medicare — would come in at $25 billion next year.
I'm not an expert on this stuff, but you don't have to be either to see what's going on. You just ask yourself how the Obamacare individual mandate ended up in the middle of the Senate version of the tax bill and see if it adds up to middle class tax reform. The end of the mandate does add up to 13 million people losing their health care coverage, which would apparently save something like $300 billion, which would obviously, uh, save on subsidies for working-class people and convert them to tax breaks for corporations. That much you can believe.
There's more, of course. Ask yourself why the Senate version would make tax cuts for corporations and rich people permanent and tax cuts for working people temporary.
Or ask yourself why typical taxpayers in blue states, faced with limits on mortgage interest deductions and state and local tax deductions, would get hit much harder than taxpayers in red states. (A story in The Los Angeles Times explains what seems like a screw-California bill. Here's just one part: "And in a move that seems just plain spiteful, the bill would take away the deduction for uninsured personal losses from wildfire and earthquakes, two of California's great tribulations, while preserving it for hurricane victims.")
Or just read the report from the Joint Committee on Taxation, which is Congress' non-partisan scorekeeper on taxes. It says that starting in 2021 people earning from $10,000 to $30,000 would get a — yes — tax hike. It further says by 2027, most Americans earning less than $75,000 would pay more in taxes. The real winners are people who make $1 million or more, meaning not me and not you.
It's no secret why Republicans have to argue that this is a middle-class tax cut or why Orrin Hatch gets so hilariously defensive — he was once poor, you know — when it gets pointed out that rich people get all the breaks. I've got a list you can clip and save.
One, most people think of themselves as middle class. Two, all polling shows that people overwhelmingly oppose tax cuts for corporations and for the rich. Three, they don't want to talk about how much Trump (oops, I did it again) would save on his taxes or the laughable idea that he'd personally take a huge hit. Four, the concept of trickle-down economics has been largely discounted, even by many who are in line to benefit from the tax cut. Five, all those budget-hawk Republicans have to talk about something else — anything else — other than their role in exploding the deficit.
If you're worried that this is now getting to a be a long dinner-time discussion, just imagine how Republican politicians feel. They want this conversation short and sweet, which is just the way they've been rushing the bills through Congress. The less debate the better. They've been promising so-called tax reform for years, and they know by passing it, they could lose the House majority in 2018 and lose everything else by 2020.
Bruce Bartlett, the Reagan adviser who helped make trickle-down economics a thing, explains the rush. The bill's true intent, he said, is not to jump-start an already hot economy, which he argues it wouldn't do in any case. The plan is to starve the beast — maybe not the best analogy for Thanksgiving — by making deficits so large that the next logical step would be to argue the necessity for cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
But maybe you shouldn't bring up the idea of stripping entitlements over dinner and leftovers. That's bound to get some people upset. I mean, one turkey is more than enough.
Mike Littwin runs on the weekends in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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