The Republican tax reform bill barreling towards a vote in the Senate after Thanksgiving is so bad the GOP can’t even pretend it’s good anymore. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell admitted last week the legislation will probably raise taxes on some middle-class workers (after he had promised it wouldn’t).
And Maine Senator Susan Collins concedes that using tax reform to end the individual healthcare mandate is going to hurt. She said, “If you do pull this piece of the Affordable Care Act out, for some middle-income families, the increased premium is going to cancel out the tax cut that they would get.”
The non-partisan Tax Policy Center painted an even more depressing picture this week. It finds the Senate bill raises taxes for 9% of taxpayers in 2019, and up to 50% of taxpayers in 2027, even while the top 1% of Americans still get large tax cuts. New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz has a great summary on the impact on regular Americans here.
There is still some hope that the grassroots movement that blocked the “repeal and replace” effort this fall can also stop this out-of-control train. But at some point soon, Americans are going to have to go on offense against this Congress and this President.
One way is at the voting booth through ballot initiatives. While we can’t use the ballot to undo federal tax code (unfortunately), we can pass other worker and workplace fairness reforms that offset some of the damage.
This isn’t pie in the sky. It’s a tried-and-true method used increasingly in recent years as lawmakers in Congress and in statehouses across the country have failed to improve workers’ standard of living or taken meaningful action to reduce economic inequality. Ballots can be used to:
1. Raise the minimum wage. Last year, ballot campaigns in six states raised the minimum wage for 8 million people, a move that so far has put an additional $2.6 billion in workers’ pockets. Missouri, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Florida are already pursuing minimum wage ballots in 2018 and there are 16 other states that are eligible for such an effort.
2. Provide workers with paid sick leave. The wages lost from taking time off to care for oneself or a loved one can be devastating. Last year, two states passed initiatives to bring paid sick leave to 2.1 million people, and in 2018, three states are planning to do the same.
3. Preserve and Expand our access to health care. We can use the ballot to preserve and expand our health care access no matter what Washington does to the Affordable Care Act. Two weeks ago, voters in Maine overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid to over 70,000 additional Mainers over their governor’s objections. Several other states are working to put similar initiatives on the ballot in 2018. And states like Alaska, where Medicaid has already been expanded, are now looking to memorialize it in state law. Alaska is also gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would preserve the ACA’s popular insurance market reforms, like maternity care and coverage for pre-existing conditions — all of which would become unaffordable if Congress strips them away.
There are countless ways voters can take control of their own futures and pocketbooks and send a message to lawmakers about what they really value. One issue that you don’t see a grassroots movement for: corporate tax cuts. They aren’t even close to making the list. If election night 2017 was any indication, good health care is the №1 priority, as are higher wages, quality education and housing security.
In the weeks ahead, we all need to light up the congressional phone lines to make our voices heard about this tax plan. The GOP is hungry for a win, even if it comes on the backs of the working poor and middle-class. But we don’t have to throw up our hands. We’ve already proven this year that an engaged public can stop terrible policy through unrelenting resistance and advance real change that helps improve people’s lives through ballot initiatives. Let’s do it again.