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.