Since early this year I’ve been writing about our broken politics and the inability of politicians to pass legislation that will lift up workers and their families, lessen economic inequality, and create an America where everyone has an opportunity to thrive. It’s been true for many years, and it’s why I’ve been arguing that direct democracy through state-based ballot initiatives is the only way we can affirmatively move ahead with policies that benefit ordinary Americans.
But now, our broken politics have gone on steroids. Politicians in Washington have put on displays of dysfunction and anti-worker and anti-family legislation this year that have exceeded what even those of us with the most skeptical view could have imagined.
It started with attempts to repeal and replace the ACA, an effort that continues today, and even when estimates were that it could destroy health care for more than 20 million people, it came within a single vote of passing. Since Donald Trump took office, his administration and Congress have whacked away at affordable housing, child care, overtime pay, workplace health and safety, and on and on.
But the ‘roid rage is in full effect in the tax bill now being rammed through Congress without hearings, without input from most Senators, and without most of the public even understanding its impact. It is the most shameless attempt ever to shift income to the rich from middle- and low-income people.
Look no further than who they are targeting to help pay for these lower tax rates for corporations and the top 1%.
Teachers: The House wants to sacrifice the $250 tax credit educators can take for purchasing classroom supplies. Under the GOP’s plan, the country’s 3.6 million teachers will have to fend for themselves. To a lawmaker, $250 may seem a pittance, but for underpaid educators it’s the difference between having the basics like pencils, papers, chalk and other materials that many schools no longer supply.
College Students: The reimbursement for student loan interest will probably disappear. Student borrowers currently struggle to pay back a record $1.45 trillion in loan debt, and now Congress wants to eliminate the one benefit that makes repayment a little less expensive. Doing so increases the likelihood of default, putting millions of young people in jeopardy just as they are starting their careers. It would also discourage many more from even pursuing a degree, stunting future economic growth.
The Sick: The reimbursement for out of pocket medical expenses is also on the chopping block. Federal lawmakers have some of the best healthcare in the country. But many Americans have enormous deductibles and other coverage gaps that can result in tens of thousands of dollars in out of pocket costs. Ending this deduction hurts those who can least afford it and who are most likely to face rising premiums if Congress also eliminates the individual healthcare mandate.
Low Income Children: As the tax drama plays out, Congress has yet to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), bi-partisan legislation that provides low-cost health insurance to nine million kids. Nearly a dozen states are about to inform families they’ve run out of money to support the program, leaving these children without access to the healthcare they need.
The Elderly: The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has calculated that GOP tax bill could automatically trigger $25 billion in Medicare cuts, unless Congress finds another way to offset its deficit increases. Which, so far, they have not.
And the fact we don’t know how the GOP plans to pay for the estimated $1.5 trillion deficit increase is perhaps the most frightening part of all of this. Giant deficit increases mean that we wont have much wiggle room if there is another recession — those at the top, benefiting from these cuts, are well situated to survive the next recession, those at the bottom are not. But we don’t have to imagine how they’ll deal with the debt too much, just this morning, Senator Rubio was explicit that Social Security and Medicare were on the block.
It’s easy to understand why nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose the legislation and believe it will hurt them financially. By the 2020s, their taxes could actually be higher than they are today. Meanwhile, our president and his family stand to be among the biggest beneficiaries, to the tune of $1 billion.
We don’t have to take Washington’s attacks on everyday Americans. We can push back. We can call and write and protest and oppose these bad policies. And we can take our fight to the ballot box. Our democracy is broken, but we have the tools to start putting it back together.
Let’s use them.