The 4 Most Ridiculous Things Tucked Into the Senate Tax Bill
This weekend, Senate Republicans passed their version of a far-reaching tax bill with amendments handwritten into the margins that no one had time to read in full – Democrats even asked for an extension to fully read what they were being asked to vote on, and they were refused. While all Democrats voted against the bill, enough Republicans signed on that it passed (only one Republican voted against it); House Republicans passed a similar bill last month. It’s a sweeping piece of legislation that has the potential to change much of American life, from education to health care, and not for the better. It hurts the poor while lining the pockets of the very rich. It’s chock-full of giveaways to far-right special interests. And it will drive up the national debt so much that Republicans are already planning to cut social safety net programs, including Social Security and Medicare, to pay for this boondoggle for the wealthy. The bill isn’t final yet – the House and the Senate have to reconcile the two versions of it in conference committee and vote again before it goes to the president – but there’s little doubt that the final bill will remain as outrageous a gift to the rich as the two current versions.
Some of the provisions of the bill aren’t just about taxes – they’re about catering to the financial interests of big-money GOP donors and the social interests of very conservative voters (if not their pocketbooks). And these provisions will do a lot of damage should they become law. Here are four things the Senate tax bill does as well as more disastrous things that could happen before it becomes law.
1. Undermines abortion rights
One of the most obvious and egregious incarnations of Republicans’ toxic political strategy is the inclusion of anti-abortion language in a provision of the bill specifying that an embryo or a fetus, which the bill calls “an unborn child,” can be the beneficiaries of a type of college-savings plan called a 529. This is a big deal, because asserting fetal personhood is a long-standing pro-life strategy; that is, anti-abortion groups want to enshrine into law that a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus is a person with full rights and liberties, because they believe that will help to eventually outlaw abortion. Personhood legislation – laws saying that life begins at conception – typically has a tough time passing when it’s put to a vote, because it has the potential to outlaw abortion in the most extreme cases (rape, incest, threat to the pregnant woman’s health or life) and even outlaw many popular forms of birth control. It’s also not particularly tenable given the realities of reproduction – there’s a reason that people are invested with their rights under the law when they’re born (under embryonic and fetal personhood laws, would every fertilized egg get a Social Security number? What about the more than half of fertilized eggs that don’t implant – would our infant mortality rate just go up to more than 50 percent?). Instead of having to debate what is a plainly terrible idea, Republicans gave their far-right base a gift of laying some of the legal groundwork for egregious encroachments on abortion rights.
2. Helps to fund private schools while making it harder to fund public education
The tax bill is also a gift to private and religious schools, as well as parents who home-school. It will let them use special accounts previously dedicated to college savings to pay for their children’s private educations – in other words, it’s a provision that will mostly benefit rich families who can afford to send their kids to private schools. At the same time, the bill kneecaps public school districts from some of the most effective ways of raising money. Most public schools are funded by state and local taxes; the tax bill removes the deduction for these taxes.
3. Guts the Affordable Care Act
Republicans couldn’t adequately destroy the ACA through normal legislative means, so they’ve snuck one attack into the tax bill. This bill gets rid of the ACA’s mandate that Americans buy health insurance or pay a penalty – the only way to make sure there’s a large enough pool of insured people to keep costs down for everyone (without a mandate, sick people are more likely buy health insurance while healthy people opt out, making it much more expensive). As a result, experts predict that insurance costs could spike, and 13 million Americans could wind up without health insurance over the next 10 years.
4. Ravages Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by allowing more oil and gas drilling
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is a 19 million acre reserve, the largest publicly owned nature reserve in the United States, and a gem of unspoiled natural beauty that environmentalists have been trying to protect. Drilling – and the potential environmental disasters it could bring – could devastate not just the land, but the indigenous tribal communities that rely on it. Republicans have gotten around Democratic opposition to drilling in ANWR by tying a measure allowing it to the budget process used to approve this tax bill – with the passage of the tax bill came the approval of ANWR drilling. At the same time, the tax bill creates financial incentives for reliance on fossil fuels, and creates costs for investing in clean energy, even though clean energy technologies have helped to create hundreds of thousands of jobs. In other words, the GOP plan is bad for the economy and the environment because they want to send a bizarre social message to their base that they don’t care about the environment and will return us to a day when coal jobs were plentiful (at this point, an impossibility).
And there could be more in the final bill.
The next step is for the Senate and the House to reconcile their two bills. There’s already significant overlap, but there are some areas where the House bill went further than the Senate, and the two houses will have to come to some middle ground. Here’s what some of the House bill provisions under consideration do:
Penalize families with high medical costs
As it stands, people who spend more than 10 percent of their income on health care – so typically, the elderly or people with serious chronic conditions – can deduct some of that from their taxes. Under the House version of the tax bill, that’s no longer the case, meaning that the old and the sick will be paying more to keep themselves healthy and alive.
Annihilate graduate education
In order to make sure the richest Americans and corporations pay less, House Republicans made it harder for many students, but especially graduate students, to afford higher education. For the many of us who have student loans, our taxes will go up under the House version of the bill, because we will no longer be able to write off a portion of our student loan interest. It’s even worse for graduate students, who will find themselves taxed on the tuition wavers they commonly receive – in other words, if a graduate student gets $20,000 of tuition waved (a common feature of graduate education), she will still have to pay taxes on that $20,000, even though she didn’t actually receive that money. Where a graduate student will find the money to pay for that massive increase is unclear. Instead, many universities suspect that many students will simply decide not to attend graduate school in the first place – hardly a way to make America great in an economy that needs more engineers, doctors, scientists, and other highly educated professionals to compete in an increasingly creative and information-centered global economy. Not to mention the fact that education is a good thing, and we should be promoting it rather than discouraging it by making it more expensive and only available to the already-wealthy.
Let religious groups be both tax exempt and politically meddling
As it stands, religious organizations like churches are exempt from taxation. But one key to that exemption is that these groups, like tax-exempt nonprofits, can’t endorse candidates or use their pulpits to push partisan electoral politics. They can, of course, have a stance on particular issues and encourage civic participation generally – Catholic priests can preach against abortion, Evangelical pastors can say marriage should be between a man and a woman, a rabbi can say it’s important to vote – but your minister can’t take to the pulpit on Sunday to tell everyone they should cast their ballot for Donald Trump or risk eternal damnation. If religious individuals want to advocate for candidates, they are free to do that; but religious institutions that enjoy a near total exemption from paying taxes can’t tell you who you should vote for. Or at least, they couldn’t – the House version of the tax bill gets rid of the long-standing amendment barring these institutions from political activism. This could be a bargaining chip in the reconciliation process with the Senate version of the bill. If removing the bar on political activism at church goes into the final version, more politics may be coming into a church (or synagogue or mosque or temple) near you.
via environmental legislation – Google News http://bit.ly/2zAMuN1
December 4, 2017 at 09:53PM