The media are calling the tax bill the Trump Administration’s only major achievement. But that ignores all the lesser victories that have piled up, from making us the only country in the world to reject the Paris Climate Accord, ending our neutrality over Jerusalem, attacking the Iran Nuclear Deal, to rejecting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (a trade pact that will now go ahead without us, now with China in the lead), and more. Trump has not just asserted his power, but destroyed years and decades of effort by others.
Yes, it’s true that he was not able to get Congress to directly “repeal and replace” Obamacare, his main goal in life, simply because it is called “Obama” care. But the tax bill actually does that, anyway, by eliminating the “individual mandate.” Imagine running an insurance company, and being told you “must insure” new people who have suddenly become seriously ill with cancer, AIDS, heart or kidney disease, or any other major malady. You can’t turn them down, because you have to accept “pre-existing conditions,” but you won’t have any money coming in, because healthy people no longer have any reason to buy insurance. They can just wait until they are deathly sick or injured. Sweet deal for the irresponsible.
We have not seen this kind of upset in our lifetime. Things are being changed for the sake of change, and destroyed just because “the other side” did it. We expected presidential executive orders to be overturned. We didn’t expect every possible norm to be trashed. And the precedent has been set for future administrations to do the same.
Remember how Republicans objected when Democrats passed Obamacare by themselves, without Republican input? The tax bill was assembled faster, more secretively, and voted on without even being read—with hand-scratched changes at the last minute. Remember: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.”
From now on, if one party controls all of Washington, it will act equally irresponsibly. Wednesday’s Boston Globe illustrated its article with Trump, McConnell, and Ryan driving a steam roller.
As a backdrop to the tax cut debate and a barometer of hypocrisy it s as edifying as it is amusing. The GOP charge: The unpopular, opaque, barely understood legislation had been written behind closed doors and rammed down the nation s throat with nary a Republican vote and with little or no input from the GOP. . .
Now consider the tax cuts the Republican president and Conress are delivering to their monied supporters for Christmas. That legislation really was done in a rush, with a process so closed and secretive and wth so little transparency, it would mortify any party that wasn’t already immune to shame. . .
Although Republicans regularly complained that the ACA wasn’t popular, it wasn’t hugely unpopular, either. Five of the last 10 surveys prior to passage [of the ACA] showed support and opposition within single digits of each other. That’s not the case with recent surveys about this tax cut turkey. Yes, you can find the occasional favorable poll, but most show the tax package decidedly under water.
Writer Scot Lehigh goes on to theorize that Republicans don’t worry about a backlash because (1) the “donor class” has more power than the electorate, (2) House seats are so gerrymandered that incumbents don’t have to care about constituent opinions, and (3) economics is complicated, and if people see a few extra bucks in their paycheck, they won’t care if there’s an extra thousand, ten thousand, hundred thousand (or more) in someone else’s.
Meanwhile, the financial publication Bloomberg points out tricks that were used to make the tax bill look good. And, Bloomberg says, “Democrats will play the same game when they get a chance.” The issue is temporary changes.
This is not, to be sure, the first time that sunsets have been used to make a bill more palatable to the budget wonks or the electorate. The Bush tax cuts, for example, expired after 10 years in order to ensure that they didn’t increase the deficit outside the forecast window (something that was, for boring parliamentary reasons, necessary to passage). But that was rather simple and clear-cut. This bill, on the other hand, makes a whole slew of changes to the tax code, and then promises to change them back again in a few years.
. . .this is a lousy way to make policy. For one thing, it means that these tax cuts will cost even more than the models predict. For another, it reduces the ability of taxpayers to plan. . .
Increasing the uncertainty surrounding the tax code, in other words, hampers the ability of taxpayers to make wise decisions about saving, investment, education, job choices, and anything else that might affect their future incomes or spending. . .
Worse still, the unprecedented scope of this budget gimmickry is likely to be mimicked on the other side of the aisle. The Obama administration was not exactly above this sort of thing; Obamacare was larded with timing tricks and unlikely “pay-fors” designed to reduce the apparent cost of the bill. But Republicans have gone them a few better, and if the history of the past 30 years is any guide, Democrats will use this precedent as license to be more irresponsible still when they get back into power.
Aside from stabbing Obamacare, there are a lot of other tricks hidden in the tax bill.
The newest draft of the Senate bill includes everything from a new tax credit for paid family leave to a tax break for citrus growers to a big reform of craft beer regulations—even a gift to the three largest U.S. airlines in their ongoing fight against the Gulf airlines. . .
Apparently, the Senate has a thing for craft brewing. The updated bill includes what is effectively a major new piece of alcohol legislation, cutting taxes on beer produced in the U.S.—and especially on small breweries. . . The Senate also likes oranges and movies.
There’s also free tax money for religious schools, and other freebies. They bought a vote from Alaska by opening up drilling, and bought a vote from Maine by promising (but not delivering) subsidies for Obamacare. Pork is not dead.
But it’s all temporary now. No, we’re not talking about the tax benefits for individuals that will end in a few years. The real problem is that you and businesses and foreign governments can no longer count on the United States of America. Every four years, our entire government can now change, killing everything that happened in the previous four or eight years. The Democratic Obamacare can die, as well as the Republican tax rewrite, next time around.
Foreign agreements can be abrogated, and entire governmental systems can be upended.
George Washington warned against the two-party system, fearing that two gangs of power-hungry hacks will push through what they want and repeal what the other side wants, regardless of the public good, causing a permanent domestic war, and cyclical waste of time and wealth. Up to now, the first president’s fears have not seriously threatened us.