A need for atonement

The administration plan repeals two taxes – the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax – that only wealthy Americans like Trump, Cohn and Mnuchin pay.

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump waves from Air Force One as he departs Morristown, New Jersey.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump waves from Air Force One as he departs Morristown, New Jersey.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If President Donald Trump were Jewish, he’d need more than one day of Yom Kippur to atone for his sins.
In the weeks leading up to this High Holiday season he has brought the world to the brink of nuclear disaster, assaulted First Amendment rights, called some of the most vile antisemites and racists “fine” people, endorsed a homophobic religious fanatic racist for the US Senate, exacerbated racial tensions, invoked phony patriotism and spread lies with alacrity.
As Jews were going to synagogue for Kol Nidre Friday evening Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price became the 14th senior administration official to get the boot in only nine months – certainly a presidential record. Trump said he didn’t like the “optics” of Price spending $400,000 on private jet travel (a contagious problem in this administration). Price was already in big trouble because he was supposed to win quick congressional approval for repealing Obamacare.
Instead, he – and that means Trump – failed dismally in their third effort to take away health care coverage for millions of Americans so the money could be used for the president’s next debacle – massive tax cuts for the wealthiest of the wealthy, including himself – if he even pays taxes at all.
Trump responded quickly to natural disasters in two predominately white “red” states that voted for him in November but dragged his feet when it came to Hispanic Americans in Puerto Rico, who have no electoral votes.
In his defense, he probably didn’t know Puerto Ricans are American citizens and seemed to have just discovered that they live on an island.
Puerto Ricans were without power, water, food, health care and shelter. But they didn’t get the same priority as red states. On a day while Puerto Ricans were scrounging for food and water, Trump was busy playing golf at his New Jersey club and tweeting out 20 attacks on the NFL – part of a 35-year-old feud because the league repeatedly rejected his efforts to buy a franchise – but not a single word about Puerto Rico. In his defense, that may be because it wasn’t covered on his favorite TV program, Fox & Friends.
But on Saturday he did find time to launch a Twitter attack on the mayor of San Juan, whose own home was destroyed and who was living in a shelter, because she had the temerity to criticize the federal relief effort.
Trump said he would visit the island nearly two weeks after it was struck.
Speaking to a group of House members at the White House, he explained the lag in getting aid to the victims of Hurricane Maria.
“It’s very tough, because it’s an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. And it’s a big ocean; it’s a very big ocean,” the president explained. “It’s out in the ocean. You can’t just drive your trucks there from other states.”
That’s right. They need ships to move relief supplies to parts of the island where roads have been washed away.
He had to be shamed into waiving a 1910 law to permit the emergency use of non-American supply ships. He initially refused, he explained, because he didn’t want to offend the shipping industry. And it took even longer to dispatch the hospital ship USS Hope, which may not arrive until midweek.
Trump’s top Jewish aides, economic adviser Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, also known as the White House branch of Goldman Sachs, used the High Holiday week to unveil the administration’s new tax reform plan.
Fact checkers around the country, economists, tax experts and various analysts quickly labeled it a fantasy and awarded it multiple Pinocchios, Pants-on-Fire and other labels.
Since the administration offered essentially talking points and no details, there is no way of telling what they plan to do or how.
Cohn said a family of four earning $55,000 could expect a tax cut between $650 and $1,000, which would be enough to “renovate their kitchen” or “buy a new car.”
Has he priced out appliances lately, to say nothing of cars? (That $55,000 is only a fraction of the cost Mnuchin and Trump’s other high flying cabinet secretaries have been billing to taxpayers so they can use charter planes and not have to ride commercial with the rest of us.) Cohn initially said “the wealthy are not getting a tax cut under our plan,” but he soon backtracked and admitted the wealthiest Americans can expect bigger tax cuts than the rest of us. He also said he “can’t guarantee” that the middle class won’t actually pay more. That’s especially the case if deductions for state and local taxes are eliminated, as the administration wants.
Trump himself would see his own tax bill cut by more than $1.1 billion under his own proposal, according to a New York Times analysis. That assumes, of course, that he even pays taxes at all. He said, “I don’t benefit.” You will have to take his word on that, and his word is not very reliable.
Accounting and tax experts cited by the Times said “high income earners like Mr. Trump are likely to benefit disproportionately” if his proposal becomes law.
The administration plan repeals two taxes – the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax – that only wealthy Americans like Trump, Cohn and Mnuchin pay.
Eliminating the estate tax would save the First Family about $1.1 billion, the Times analysis showed. He likes to tout it as helping “small business and farmers,” but PolitiFact and the Tax Policy Center’s analysts said “that is exaggerated.” The report noted that estates under $5.5 million are already exempt from federal estate taxes. The real beneficiaries are the nation’s wealthiest families.
Fewer than 6,000 estates and about 80 small farms and closely held businesses would pay any estate tax today, according to the Tax Policy Center.
It is understandable for citizens to have two questions: how will it affect me and how will it affect you? We deserve honest answers.
Before Congress takes up consideration of the president’s tax reform plan it should demand that he follow the example of all his predecessors back to Richard Nixon by publicly releasing his tax returns. Only in that way can taxpayers and their representatives in the Congress know the real impact of President’s proposals.
It’s not too late for an al chet [confession of sins] prayer asking forgiveness.