Tax Fight Reveals Congressional Values

December 11, 2017 Will Coley

Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

“You have the chance to be an American hero. You’re halfway there... I need you to make your vote match your principles, Senator.”

This is what Ady Barkan, a father with ALS, told Senator Jeff Flake on a flight from Washington, D.C. to Phoenix last week. Barkan is an organizer with the Center for Popular Democracy. He was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease a year ago, and can no longer hold his young son. Barkan was in D.C. to urge Congressional lawmakers to reject the tax-cut plan passed by both houses. After seeing his senator on the plane home, Barkan discussed the tax bill with Flake, emphasizing the impact it could have on families like Barkan’s (see more here). He asked Flake to remember his values and vote against the tax bill. Barkan ended with “You can save my life."

Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona sits on a flight

Values have never been clearer on Capitol Hill. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed legislation that economist Paul Krugman called “the greatest tax scam in U.S. history.” The two bills make clear what Congressional leaders care most about: rewarding the wealthy and corporations while raising taxes on working families and cutting support for people living in poverty.

According to Congress’ own Joint Tax Committee, the Senate’s bill will add more than $1.63 trillion to the deficit. And what would Congress do to make up for this shortfall? Senator Marco Rubio said that reducing spending meant “instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future.” And by “structural changes,” Rubio means cuts. We already know Republicans are planning based off the budget resolutions they passed earlier this fall: $25 billion cut from Medicaid in addition to major cuts to other anti-poverty programs.

“You have the chance to be an American hero. You’re halfway there... I need you to make your vote match your principles, Senator.”

At the same time, the Senate bill repeals the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. This means that 13 million Americans could lose their health insurance. Larry Summers, former Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton and White House economic advisor under Barack Obama, estimates that 10,000 people would die each year as a result of this repeal. Such threats to our national values are driving protesters to take over Congressional offices and hallways while chanting “Don’t kill us: kill the bill!” and “Budgets are moral documents!”

The second chant quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which is important to keep in mind as the two bills head to a Congressional conference committee. Representatives from both houses are working to merge the two bills for President Trump to sign into law before Christmas. If the final bill contains key provisions from the House or Senate versions, the results could be catastrophic, damaging economic opportunity for millions of people for years to come.

But what about our national values? We all want to live in a country where everyone enjoys full and equal opportunity. We all deserve the chance to live in economic stability. We need a tax system that works for  everyone -- not just the wealthy -- so that all Americans receive the support they need to provide for their families.

Our government’s role should be to make sure everyone has access to education, jobs, and healthcare, not to enable the very wealthy from paying their fair share at the expense of society. Instead of this backwards step, we need to protect and improve programs like social security, welfare, and Medicaid, which can provide the tools people need to make ends meet and climb out of poverty.

There’s still time to stop the tax-cut bill. Contact your representatives and urge them to support tax policies that protect opportunity.