Mike Littwin: Trump still insists tax bill will cost him a fortune
December 2, 2017
I'm distracted. I admit it. You can't help but be distracted — also appalled — when the president of the United States retweets far-right, anti-Muslim videos from a British fringe group and his spokesperson says it doesn't really matter that the videos might be fake because "the threat is real."
You can't help but be distracted by Donald Trump's use of Pocahontas as a racist slur at an event honoring World War II-veteran Navajo code talkers. Or by his use of the firing of the apparently slimy Matt Lauer to slime Joe Scarborough. Or by the New York Times and Washington Post stories that Trump is privately saying his vulgar Access Hollywood tape is phony and, even now, that the Obama birth certificate is fake.
I don't know if Trump's outrages and lies are strategic or simply signs that he has lost it, but either way, they confirm what most Americans must understand by now — that he is a danger to American democracy.
The problem with the distractions is that to call them distractions is to minimize how thoroughly they diminish the country Trump insists he wants to make great again.
And yet. And yet.
I came here today to write about the horrendous tax bill that Republicans rushed through Congress. There's no secret about the reason for the no-hearings, no-testimony speed legislating. The parts moved so quickly that it's hard to keep up with the lie at the heart of the bill. As everyone must know, it's not really a cut for working people, but rather the expected giant transfer of wealth to the already rich.
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There's so much wrong with the bill, but let's start with the front-loading strategy that has middle-class cuts, averaging $1,000 a year, kicking in right away and then, as if by magic, disappearing altogether. By 2027, the average family making less than $75,000 actually pays more in taxes. Or to put it another way, as the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office do, those making between $40,000 and $50,000 would pay a combined $5.3 billion more in taxes while those making at least $1 million a year receive a $5.8 billion cut. You can draw a straight line for money taken from poor and given to rich.
But you get all that. That's why the many versions of the tax cut are so wildly unpopular. You have to do real work to make a tax cut that unpopular, but you've seen the polling. People see it's a huge corporate tax cut with a few added benefits like the repeal of the estate tax. Who's fooled by that?
Nearly all the CBO scoring on the bill shows the deficit blowing up and poor people getting hurt. Most economists expect that most of the money corporations save by slashing the corporate rate will go to shareholders and not to workers. The louder Republicans scream about middle-class savings, the more you know they're not telling you the truth.
This is an old argument made fresh by the fact of the tax bill. If anyone still truly believes in trickle-down, that's not a problem we're going to solve today.
But here's what we have been distracted from. The Senate, with the Trump administration's encouragement, decided to spice up the bill by dismantling the Obamacare mandate. As the Democratic talking point goes — one that Michael Bennet used in a news conference Tuesday — if the Obamacare repeal bill was a tax cut in disguise, as it was, this tax-cut bill is actually an Obamacare-repeal bill in disguise, which it is.
If you're confused why Republicans added the Obamacare mandate repeal to a tax bill, I can think of at least four possibilities.
One, the mandate has been especially unpopular and presumably remains so even as support for Obamacare itself has risen significantly. So, you pretend that repealing the mandate is just about repealing the mandate instead of its real purpose, which is one more try at destroying Obamacare.
Two, repealing the mandate would save something more than $300 billion because, without the mandate, the CBO estimates that 13 million people would no longer have coverage. And by not having to pay the $300 billion in subsidies, that allows the bill to fit into the required $1.5 trillion framework — a Senate-rules gimmick that allow a bill to pass with 51 votes instead of 60 — and to give the money to, yes, the rich. By the way, if the bill passes as currently written, Medicare would face an automatic annual cut of — wait for it — $25 billion. This is not fake news.
Three, even Republican lawmakers are distracted by that shiny tax-cutting object. The three senators — Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain — who voted down the Obamacare repeal have been so tempted to pass a tax cut, even one as flawed as this one, that they may have forgotten about the 13 million Obamacare losers. If combining Obamacare repeal with the tax cut works, it will seem like genius, if really, really evil genius.
Four, Trump can't stand that it keeps getting thrown in his face how badly he failed in the Obamacare repeal.
So that's where we are. Trump goes to Missouri to tout the cuts while the Senate votes to move to debate the final bill, which presumably we'll eventually see. Obamacare repeal got to this point and still was turned back. What happens to the tax bill remains uncertain.
But no one can still have doubts what the bill is really about. All you had to do was listen to Trump's 11th-hour sales pitch in which he unblinkingly told the Missouri audience, "This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing. Believe me. This is not good for me."
Believe him? It's the only way you could possibly think the bill is good for the rest of us.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays 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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