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Outrage Crucial as Trump-GOP Tax Scam Gets Dangerously Close to Passing the Senate

When President Trump and Congressional Republicans tried to repeal Obamacare earlier this year, the gross unfairness of taking healthcare away from 20-30 million Americans sparked outrage across the country.  Members of Congress got an angry earful from constituents every time they went back home.  Speaker Paul Ryan’s office got so many calls they had to shut the phone lines down.  Despite multiple attempts to kill the Affordable Care Act, Republicans repeatedly failed under a crush of public pressure.  Senators of conscience, including Sens. McCain, Murkowski, and Collins put principle over party and stood in opposition when it counted.  That is precisely the kind of outrage we need right now as the Trump/GOP tax scam rolls toward passage.

In the face of overwhelming evidence that the Republican plan is a shamelessly giveaway to the wealthy and big corporations, the public must continue to apply as much pressure as possible on elected representatives. (The Senate GOP bill even includes a provision repealing Obamacare’s mandate, and the opposition must rise with equal fervor.)  National Committee president Max Richtman sent a letter to the Senate yesterday urging that the bill be defeated.

Now is the time to seize on the opportunity to stop the Trump/GOP tax juggernaut before it wreaks permanent havoc on the lives of the poor, the sick, the working class, and the elderly. Yesterday the Senate Finance Committee advanced the bill to the floor on a 12-11 party-line vote. A handful of GOP Senators still oppose the plan, but the number is dwindling by the day and no doubt most of them will cave in the end. Meanwhile, in an effort to woo holdouts, Senate tax writers are making the bill even more generous to the wealthy.  

“[A] change demanded by… two unhappy senators — Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Steve Daines of Montana — would further lower the tax bills of people like President Trump who earn most of their income through limited liability companies, partnerships and other ‘pass through’ businesses that do not withhold taxes on the money passed along to their owners.” – New York Times, 11/28/17

One could rightly ask, where is the outrage on the part of deficit hawks and so-called GOP moderates? What does it even mean to be a moderate who could vote for such a regressive piece of legislation?  Even Maine Senator Susan Collins is negotiating with tax writers instead of remaining firm in opposition.  Hopes that the requisite three GOP Senators will retain the courage to buck this bill are fading fast.

We need to look past the obvious distractions of Trump’s latest tweets and petty feuds and keep our eye on the ball.  The Trump/GOP tax scam is being served up for the benefit of billionaires and corporate titans in the party’s donor base.  Republicans have admitted as much:  big donations will dry up if they don’t get this done.

Months of careful and credible analysis has laid bare the truth about who will pay the price for this irresponsible legislation.  While the 1% get trillions in tax relief, many working class Americans will see their taxes go up in the next ten years:

Almost every independent evaluation of the House and Senate plans has found a $1 trillion tax cut for corporations and changes to the individual tax code that would benefit wealthier Americans while leading to millions of middle-class and lower-income people paying higher taxes than they do now. – Dylan Scott, Vox
Those earning under $10,000 would see their taxes rise by a cumulative $100 million; those earning between $10,000 and $20,000 would see taxes rise by $638 million; those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 would see taxes rise by almost $1.2 billion; and those earning between $30,000 and $40,000 would see taxes rise by $653 billion. – Politifact.

According to Politifact, some 40 million Americans would pay higher taxes in 2027 than they would today. Older Americans would be hit particularly hard.  Not only might their taxes go up if they are not fortunate enough to inhabit the upper income echelons, but the tax legislation would automatically trigger $25 billion in immediate cuts to Medicare.  The projected $1.5 trillion the tax cuts would add to the national debt would no doubt spur Republicans to pursue even deeper cuts to seniors’ earned benefits, leading to benefit cuts and higher eligibility ages for Medicare and Social Security.  Melissa Favreault of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center warns:

Unless the tax cuts spur immense economic growth, which many prominent economists doubt based on decades of evidence, these cuts will harm future workers and Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries. – Melissa Favreault, Tax Policy Center

Not to mention that the Trump/GOP budget plan calls for over a trillion dollars in cuts to Medicaid, which millions of seniors rely on for long-term care.  Is it fair to punish current and future generations of seniors so the rich and multinational corporations can pocket trillions they don’t even need? 

Republican members of Congress continue to shill for the plan, perpetuating the lie that it provides significant tax relief for the middle class (it clearly doesn’t) or that it will grow the economy and create jobs (a myth disproven by history time and again).  The mainstream media focuses largely on the “horse race” aspect of the tax debate – who’s up, who’s down, how badly President Trump and the GOP need a “win.” Meanwhile, we know who loses, including large swaths of President Trump’s own base in the working class, which is perhaps the most egregious betrayal of all.  As Dylan Scott points out in Vox, candidate Trump promised to bring a new kind of populism to Washington.  “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” said the President at his inaugural.  

“Trump promised that the big, beautiful tax cut Republicans would pass would be a tax cut for the middle class. He went so far as to claim that he himself, allegedly worth $10 billion, would not benefit. He pledged that he wouldn’t be swayed by the Washington lobbying class.” – Dylan Scott, Vox

Those millions of working class Americans seem to have been all but forgotten now.  The President and the Republicans in Congress are clearly hoping that most voters are, in fact, distracted or looking the other way as they pull off one of the biggest transfers of wealth in U.S. history.  But we must not look the other way, or soon it will be too late.

 

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Trump/GOP Tax Bill Would Trigger Devastating Cut to Medicare

In the latest in a series of “oops” moments for the GOP, Congressional leaders apparently didn’t realize that their deficit-swelling tax scheme would trigger $136 billion in automatic cuts to mandatory spending programs.  This includes a $25 billion reduction in Medicare spending, which would take effect almost immediately after passage of the tax bill.  Needless to say, that large a cut could be devastating to the 57 million seniors and disabled who rely on Medicare.  As a consequence of cutting taxes for the wealthy and big corporations, it would also be grossly unfair.

The automatic cuts would kick-in thanks to the little-known PAYGO law, which, according to the Congressional Budget Office, “requires that new legislation enacted during a term of Congress does not collectively increase estimated deficits.”  If such legislation produces a net increase in the deficit, the federal government is required to sequester enough funds to eliminate the overage; hence, the massive and instant cut to Medicare.

As we discussed on today's Behind the Headlines on Facebook Live, seniors’ advocates are understandably alarmed.  National Committee President Max Richtman issued the following wake-up call this morning:

“In their rush to enact a reckless tax bill, Congressional Republicans have overlooked a provision in federal budgetary law that would have immediate and devastating consequences for Medicare.  Left uncorrected, this would not only be a bald-faced admission that tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations are more important than medical care for seniors, but also a betrayal of President Trump’s promise not to touch Medicare.” – Max Richtman, National Committee president, 11/15/17

Richtman sent a letter to the House of Representatives today urging members to oppose the GOP’s “Robin Hood in Reverse” tax plan in its entirety – or at least stop the imminent cut to Medicare while they have the chance.  The Congress can stop the sequestration – including the $25 billion hit to Medicare – when it enacts the tax plan.  House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says that GOP leadership should at least have the common sense to do that.

“While it is possible to avoid the PAYGO enforcement cuts triggered by their added deficits, Republicans would need Democratic votes to do it, requiring them to abandon their go-it-alone partisan strategy, which is only leading them on a path to failure and to putting our country in danger.” – House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, 11/14/17

Of course, the entire tax scheme – which is being rushed through Congress without regular order – is harmful to seniors’ health and retirement security either way.  It eliminates the deduction for medical expenses like chronic and long-term care and balloons the deficit so that future Congresses will feel justified in raiding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to make up the difference. In fact, the tax plan presumes passage of the Scrooge-like Republican budget, which calls for $500 billion in Medicare cuts and slashes Medicaid by a whopping $1 trillion.  In effect, Republicans are asking seniors, the disabled, and the poor to pay for the lion’s share of a cut for the super-rich. Not to mention that some 36 million middle class Americans will actually see their taxes go up under the GOP plan.

None of these groups – the poor, the middle class, the disabled, or seniors – should be asked to shoulder this burden for a tax cut the wealthy and big corporations don’t need.  As Max Richtman writes in his letter to Congress:

Medicare beneficiaries cannot afford to pay more for less coverage – particularly when half of them have incomes of less than $26,200 a year and spend 25 percent of their Social Security check to pay for Medicare Parts B and D out-of-pocket costs for premiums and cost-sharing amounts.  

Regarding Medicaid, middle-class Americans often rely on the program for long-term services and supports when they exhaust their savings. Nearly two-thirds of all nursing home residents’ care is financed in whole or in part by Medicaid. In addition, Medicaid provides home and community-based services that allow seniors to stay in their homes. The fiscal crisis created by the tax bill is likely to result in a [trillion-dollar] cut to Medicaid that will limit seniors’ access to long-term care services. – Max Richtman’s Letter to Congress, 11/15/17

The public seems to grasp the gross unfairness of the Republican tax scheme.  A just-released Quinnipiac poll indicates that only 25% favor the GOP plan while 52% oppose it. Meanwhile, GOP leadership has made it clear that they are not beholden to ordinary Americans, but their wealthy and powerful donors:  a glaring case of backward priorities on Capitol Hill.

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Our Digital Media department created this clever graphic for our Facebook and Twitter feeds about the true nature of the GOP Tax Scam and the PAYGO cuts:


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GOP Budget Resolution a "Lump of Coal" for Seniors, Middle Class

While the media have been largely consumed by the latest outrages from the White House, Republicans in Congress have been quietly working to radically redesign our tax code and cut trillions in spending that benefits ordinary Americans, including and especially seniors. With little fanfare, the Senate voted 51-49 last week to pass a cynical budget resolution that’s really a Trojan Horse for tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations. Yesterday, the House followed suit by a vote of 216-212.  

Had a few votes gone the other way, these plans would have been stopped dead in their tracks, as we witnessed with Obamacare repeal.  But the public wasn’t paying much attention, and the pressure on Congress to vote in the public interest was nowhere near as intense.

Even if some of the more heinous budget cuts fall away, the resolution is an unsettling declaration of priorities that can only be described as mean-spirited and immoral.  As Dylan Scott keenly observes in Vox:

The budget stands as a vision of what the Republican majority wants to do, and perhaps would do if it had eight or nine more votes in the Senate. It suggests that basically every Republican in each chamber (the only senator opposed was Rand Paul, who wanted deeper cuts) is comfortable aligning himself or herself with an agenda that radically cuts the social safety net for… retirees and the middle class. – Dylan Scott in Vox, 10/26/17

The GOP budget and tax scheme, which leadership would like to pass before the holidays, has been rightly described as a “lump of coal for the middle class.”  Yes, the tax plan is a big, fat Christmas gift to the wealthy, wrapped in a package of distortions.  Despite President Trump’s disingenuous claim that it helps middle income earners, 80% of the tax savings goes to the wealthiest 1% of the American people.  The rest get only a trickle of tax relief.  

Tax policy that benefits the middle class, including deductions for state and local taxes, goes out the window in this plan.  So might existing exemptions for 401K contributions, currently set at $18,000 per year.  GOP leaders have talked about significantly reducing the amount of pre-tax contributions people can make, reportedly to $2,400 per year.  (The exact details are secret, of course, until the plan is unveiled on November 1st.)  The party of personal responsibility is actually proposing to penalize Americans for saving for retirement – as some 50 million of us now do to the tune of $67 billion in tax savings per year.

The GOP would pay for massive tax breaks for the rich by cutting essential safety net programs for seniors and other vulnerable Americans.  These are among the Scrooge-like proposals in the  budget plan:

*Cuts nearly $500 billion from Medicare by privatizing the program and raising the eligibility age.

*Cuts $1.3 trillion from Medicaid over ten years, jeopardizing long term care services and supports for the elderly.

*Cuts $653 in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for some 8 million low-income seniors and people with disabilities.

*Will likely require cuts in in Older Americans Act programs (e.g., Meals on Wheels), home heating assistance for seniors, and research into diseases affecting the elderly, including Alzheimer’s and cancer.

Meanwhile, the supposedly budget-conscious GOP has voted to allow itself to deficit-fund $1.5 trillion of the tax cut package. As the hole in the deficit grows, Republicans will then be able to come after Americans’ earned benefits – Social Security and Medicare – to try to close the gap, even though Social Security and Medicare Part A are self-funded and don’t affect general revenues.  

Of course, the long-planned assault on Medicare has already begun – with new viability now that Republicans control all branches of government. The budget resolution contains oft-told prevarications about the program:

"Medicare spending is on an unsustainable course… Given this untenable situation, the budget resolution supports work by the authorizing committees to recommend legislative solutions extending Medicare's solvency in the near term, while pursuing policies that place the program on a sustainable long-term path." – GOP 2018 Budget Resolution

The way to strengthen Medicare now and for the future is to keep the Affordable Care Act in place (which is already saving Medicare hundreds of billions) and allow the government to negotiate prescription drug prices with drug companies, for starters. 

Because Congressional leadership is forcing reckless tax cuts through the reconciliation process (where measures can pass the Senate with a simple majority), Democrats will be unable to impede this cruel juggernaut.  As we saw in the Obamacare repeal battle, it will once again fall to a handful of Republicans of conscience to put the brakes on unfair tax and budget cuts.  But they will do so only if they hear loudly and clearly from all of us.


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House GOP Recklessly Pursues Privatization of Medicare in Budget Process

Congress is targeting the health and financial well-being of America’s seniors by making yet another attempt to privatize Medicare.   Yesterday the House Budget Committee passed the GOP’s FY 2018 budget resolution, which includes Speaker Paul Ryan’s “Medicare premium support” scheme – an innocuous name for turning time-tested senior health care coverage into “Coupon-Care.”  

The House budget blueprint slashes nearly $500 billion from Medicare over ten years and raises the eligibility age from 65 to 67 – along with gutting Medicaid and other social safety net programs for needy seniors.  

The Associated Press had a pithy summary of the painful cuts that the GOP proposes in its new budget:

“The plan, in theory at least, promises to balance the budget through unprecedented and unworkable cuts across the budget. It calls for turning this year's projected $700 billion or so deficit into a tiny $9 billion surplus by 2027. It would do so by slashing $5.4 trillion over the coming decade, including almost $500 billion from Medicare, $1.5 trillion from Medicaid and the Obama health law, along with enormous cuts to benefits such as federal employee pensions, food stamps, and tax credits for the working poor.” – Associated Press, 7/18/17

 National Committee President Max Richtman says that converting Medicare into a voucher program is an existential threat to the program itself. 

 “Over time, giving seniors vouchers to purchase health insurance would dramatically increase their out of pocket costs since the fixed amount of the voucher is unlikely to keep up with the rising costs of health care. And, as healthier seniors choose less costly private plans, the sicker and poorer seniors would remain in traditional Medicare, leading to untenable costs, diminished coverage, and an eventual demise of traditional Medicare, plain and simple.” – Max Richtman, NCPSSM President

Of course, raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 as the House spending plan also proposes, is in itself a drastic benefit cut.

Undermining Medicare has been a long-held dream of fiscal conservatives. Their “premium support” proposal is a thinly veiled scheme to allow traditional Medicare to “wither on the vine,” as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich once put it.

Privatization is being sold as “improving customer choice,” but based on the way current Medicare Advantage plans work, private insurance will continue to offer fewer choices of doctors than traditional Medicare does.  If traditional Medicare is allowed to shrink and collapse, choice will disappear, too.

“Weakening Medicare is a politically perilous path for Republicans.  Recent polling indicates that large majorities of Americans across party lines prefer that Medicare be kept the way it is, not to mention that President Trump repeatedly promised to protect the program during the 2016 campaign.” – Max Richtman, NCPSSM President

Meanwhile, the National Committee strongly condemns other priorities of the House Republican budget resolution, as well.  The GOP budget resolution will mean: 

*Hundreds of billions in painful cuts to Medicaid, which seniors depend on for long-term care services and supports.

*Reaffirmation of a House rule that puts 11 million Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries at risk of a 7% benefit cut in 2028.

*Reductions to SSI (Supplemental Security Insurance), which provides cash assistance to low-income seniors and people with disabilities.

 *Caps on non-defense spending that will likely lead to devastating cuts to Older Americans Act programs and the Social Security Administration (SSA) operating budget.

 *Slashing of programs that benefit our nation’s veterans and deep cuts to spending on medical research (including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions afflicting the elderly).

The savings from these devastating cuts will likely go to tax breaks for the wealthy.  Last year’s House Republican tax plan gave 99.6% of its benefits to the top one-percent of earners, with virtually nothing for middle and low income Americans.

 

 

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Tom Price's "Alternate Reality"

In the Orwellian world that Trump’s Washington has become, we are used to hearing language abused and misused to forward a right-wing agenda.  This week was no different.  As Kaiser Health News reported, HHS Secretary Tom Price was on Capitol Hill Thursday reciting a blatantly false Tea Party mantra:  government programs for our society’s most vulnerable members deserve to be cut because they “don’t work.”  This falsehood flies in the face of evidence - of history, really.  But in an attempt to dismantle the New Deal and Great Society programs that boost up the neediest – which includes millions of older Americans – the administration will literally say anything even if the opposite is true.

Price appeared before two congressional committees yesterday to defend President Trump’s 2018 budget, which calls for drastic cuts to programs benefitting seniors - including Medicaid, Meals on Wheels, and medical research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  His testimony included the following whopper:

“The problem with many of our federal programs is not that they are too expensive or too underfunded. The real problem is that they do not work—they fail the very people they are meant to help.”  HHS Secretary Tom Price before the Senate Finance Committee, 6/8/17

In spreading these myths, Price is singing from the same hymnal as other administration officials, most notably Budget Director Mick Mulvaney who defended funding cuts for Meals on Wheels thusly:

“Meals on Wheels sounds great… [but] we're not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.” – OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, 3/15/17

With an extra-Orwellian touch, Mulvaney added that draconian cuts in safety net programs are “one of the most compassionate things we can do.”

All of this begs the question:  by what imaginary standard do these programs “not work” or “fail the people they are meant to help?”   How does Medicaid – which allows millions of needy seniors to afford long-term care at home or in skilled nursing care facilities – not work?  Or Meals on Wheels, which provides hot, nutritious meals for 2 million hungry and isolated seniors – not work?  These are programs that undeniably do work.

National Committee President Max Richtman takes Secretary Price to task for telling untruths about these vital federal programs:  

“As a former member of Congress and a physician, Secretary Price should know better.  By maligning programs that have been a lifeline for millions of Americans for decades, Secretary Price is denying history and facts.  He is attempting to create an alternative reality that is patently false and misleading.”  - Max Richtman, NCPSSM President & CEO

Price also resorted to the spurious claim that rising costs in programs like Medicaid demand cuts.  He insisted that cutting $610 billion from Medicaid would lead to “innovations and efficiencies.”  No, cutting billions from Medicaid will result in a shortfall for states facing rising costs, forcing them to cut benefits or kick people off the rolls altogether. 

The truth is that these federal safety net programs are incredibly efficient already. Medicaid’s per capita costs are significantly lower than private insurers’.  Meals on Wheels can feed a senior for an entire year at the same cost as a single day in the hospital.  And those are only two of the safety net programs which fall under the Trump budget axe.

Democrats on the Hill pushed back against Price’s pronouncements and Trump’s budget cuts, too:

It’s mean-spirited. It’s not good for America. We can do much better." - Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)

If Republican budget hawks like Price truly cared about seniors, children, the disabled, and other vulnerable segments of society, they would not be slashing safety net programs.  But they cannot pay for trillions in tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations without cutting domestic spending, so programs that benefit our neediest citizens go on the chopping block.  The rationale that the Trump budget cutters are simply seeking “efficiencies” is a thin veil for denying needy seniors long term care or hot meals. 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, father of the New Deal and grandfather of the Great Society (which today’s GOP is fighting to undo) put it best when he said:

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little."  - President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Unlike Trump’s budget hawks, FDR understood the importance of authentic language that shines a light on fundamental truths.  He would never confuse “compassion” for cruelty, “helping people” for hurting them, or success for failure.  Neither should we.

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