Washington watch: Beware the Grinch

It is no accident that complex, self-dealing legislation like this tax bill is drafted in secret, rushed through at the end of the year without hearings and examination.

December 20, 2017 22:21
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump points at a Christmas sign.

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump points at a Christmas sign.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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US President Donald Trump is playing Santa Claus this week, taking credit for that the $1.5 trillion tax bill Republicans rammed through Congress. He’s calling it his “big beautiful Christmas present.”

While he is putting billions in the stockings of his fellow multi-millionaires and their corporate friends, middle-class families and workers will be getting a few lumps of coal and some small change that the Grinch is already planning to take back in the new year.

Tax cuts for the wealthy are huge and permanent, but for families they are small – if you get one at all – and disappear in 2025.

Santa’s elf, the credibility-challenged Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, is saying all those tax cuts will pay for themselves, but he wants us to take that on faith because he has failed to produce any hard evidence, and history suggests this is more illusion than economics.

The 429-page bill was released at 5:30 last Friday evening and you can bet your tax rebate that few if any of the 535 members of Congress bothered reading it before casting their votes. That includes most of the so-called authors, who left the details to their staffs.

Democrats were frozen out of the drafting, there were no public hearings and no time for analysis by experts in the Congressional Budget Office and other non-partisan groups. Instead, the Republican leadership depended on party loyalty, fear of failure and good old fashioned bribery – aka incentives – to get the votes.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) said he was voting “no” because it raised deficits until some benefits were added for real estate investors like him. He denies there was any quid pro quo, but Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), number two in the Senate GOP leadership, told ABC’s This Week that some provisions that could personally benefit lawmakers like Corker were inserted to “cobble together the votes we needed to get this bill passed.”

Corker is small fish on his benefit. The whales are Trump, his sons, his son-in-law and fellow ultrarich real estate developers. There are also a lot of other provisions in this legislation that directly benefit Trump.

The president said, “This is not good for me. Believe me.” Don’t! He also said the tax bill would “cost me a fortune.” Another lie. In fact, few people are likely to benefit more financially than the president himself and his family. And Mnuchin and several top administration officials.

Ignore the president’s protestations. You can’t believe anything he says because he refuses to release his tax returns.

There’s more than one Grinch in this Christmas tale. Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) helped pile on the gifts for the campaign finance donor class until “we don’t have money anymore” to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). He told The Hill, he had a “rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything.”

His fellow troglodyte Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is happy to help “people that are investing” but not “those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

It’s a cruel fiction for Trump, Mnuchin and backers of the bill to claim it will pay for itself. It won’t. History suggests there is little likelihood corporations will use their new windfall to raise wages and create new jobs. Executives consistently say they expect to increase dividends for shareholder and buy back some of their stock.

This bill isn’t needed to kick-start an economy that is already in high gear, at least if you’re a big stock market investor and not a shrinking-minimum- wage worker; that’s a fiction. This is a political payoff to big donors and corporate interests, backed by the huge army of lobbyists they hired to win these giveaways of taxpayer money. And it’s a deliberate, hard-hearted slap at the nation’s neediest, many of whom voted for Trump in the delusional belief that he was serious about draining the swamp and fighting for their interests.

While Santa Trump is taking his victory laps in his golden sleigh, Republicans are hoping they can ride it to victory in next year’s congressional elections and that no one will notice the huge deficits they’re racking up with this legislation that billionaire businessman and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called a “trillion-dollar blunder,” or the big cuts in essential services like Medicare and Medicaid that will inevitably follow.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has a two-step solution to those deficits created by all those generous gifts Republicans are giving to their donors and wealthy friends. For the long term, he suggests “higher birth rates.” For now, Grinch Ryan is calling for “entitlement reform.” That’s his euphemism for shredding the social safety net by cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other benefits.

You may recall Trump opening his campaign by promising he would “save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts.” He repeated that several times, including a tweet, “I am going to save Social Security without any cuts. I know where to get the money from. Nobody else does.”

Don’t bet on it.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the principle author of the tax bill, has repeatedly said that once it was done he would turn to “welfare reform.”

That has also been a goal of Ryan since he came to Congress and now, having just blown a giant hole in the federal budget and ballooning the deficit, he intends using the giveaway to the wealth as an excuse to take away benefits from those who genuinely need them.

It is no accident that complex, self-dealing legislation like this tax bill is drafted in secret, rushed through at the end of the year without hearings and examination and is loaded down with benefits for special interests. That’s why it is known as a Christmas tree bill. Hiding behind that tree and all its sparkling ornaments is the Grinch who wants to shred your social safety net to pay for all those decorations.

Save that lump of coal in your stocking. You may need it.

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