Democracy Dies in Darkness

Opinions

Apparently Republicans want to kick the middle class in the face

By Catherine Rampell

November 30, 2017 at 7:41 PM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It's not enough to give money to rich people. Apparently, Republicans want to kick the poor and middle class in the face, too.

I used to think the Republican Party's obsession with top-heavy tax cuts was about pleasing wealthy donors and maybe also fulfilling some misguided Randian fantasy. If the poor and middle class happened to be collateral damage, so be it.

But it's starting to look like shafting the little guy has become a feature, not a bug, of the GOP's budget-busting tax plan.

In years past, when Republicans wished to pass huge tax cuts for the wealthy, they at least offered a few goodies to so-called regular Americans. Take the George W. Bush tax cuts: They were also extremely weighted toward the rich, but some of the provisions helped the middle class and poor. The 2001 legislation made the Child Tax Credit partially refundable, for instance, which for the first time allowed many poor families to receive it.

More important, the Bush tax cuts didn't actually raise taxes on any households, according to estimates from the Tax Policy Center.

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The House speaker fails to account for what happens after 2018 in his estimate for Cindy, an example voter. (Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

This time around, Republicans have taken a different approach. They're offsetting their tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy by hiking them further down the income distribution.

Yes, it's true that lower- and middle-income households would get a tax cut initially. But according to Congress's own official nonpartisan scorekeepers, by 2027 the Senate tax bill would actually raise taxes on households making less than $75,000. That's the case even if you strip out the controversial effects of repealing the individual mandate.

No wonder this bill is less popular than any major change in federal tax policy since at least 1981.  

But wait, it gets worse. Higher taxes aren't the only way in which Republicans plan to punish the poor and middle class. They also plan to gut the government services these populations depend on.

This tax bill is merely a prelude to, or perhaps an excuse for, shredding the social safety net.

Despite all those fanciful promises about how tax cuts will pay for themselves, Republican politicians know their legislation will blow a major hole in the deficit. According to lawmakers' own official scorekeepers, the Senate bill would cost $1 trillion over the coming decade, even after accounting for additional economic growth.

And in recent days and weeks, prominent Republicans have pledged to patch over this budget hole by cutting programs that millions of Americans need to get by.

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In this clip from The Washington Post's weekly Opinions roundup, “It’s Only Thursday,” opinion writers Jonathan Capehart, Jo-Ann Armao and Ruth Marcus discuss the minimal benefits of the GOP tax plan for the middle class. (Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

At an event on Wednesday, for example, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) linked tax cuts to coming entitlement cuts. 

"Many argue that you can't cut taxes because it will drive up the deficit," he said. "But we have to do two things. We have to generate economic growth which generates revenue, while reducing spending. That will mean instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future."

At another event this week, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) said that once the tax bill was done, "welfare reform" — code for rolling back means-tested benefits — was on the agenda.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) of course has been trying to block-grant Medicaid and other safety-net programs for years. At a recent town hall, when asked why the tax bill wasn't paid for through spending cuts, he assured the audience that spending cuts would be coming quite soon.

Even President Trump, supposed defender of the downtrodden, remarked at a recent Cabinet meeting: "We're looking very strongly at welfare reform, and that'll all take place right after taxes, very soon, very shortly after taxes." He added that such a policy was "desperately needed in our country."

You might question these pledges because cutting entitlements and other safety-net programs is easier said than done. Republicans learned this when they tried and failed to roll back Medicaid earlier this year.

But it's worth noting that if Trump signs tax cuts into law in December, some spending cuts would be triggered automatically in January — without lawmakers having to lift a single finger or herd a single cat. Medicare alone would be slashed by $25 billion between January and September.

Such cuts would be triggered by a law known as statutory PAYGO, which was designed to promote fiscal responsibility. Overriding the law requires 60 Senate votes. Even if Democrats get on board with cleaning up the GOP's budget mess, recent comments suggest not all Senate or House Republicans may choose to join them.

Income inequality is near record highs, and yet Republicans' regressive tax and spending plans forge forward. It's time for voters to ask their elected officials: How much upward distribution of wealth will ever be enough?

Read more here:

Robert E. Rubin: No serious lawmaker should support this tax bill

The Post's View: Republicans may add a 'trigger' to their tax bill. It won't work.

Robert J. Samuelson: Kill the tax bill

Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles: A moment of truth for our country's financial future


Catherine Rampell is an opinion columnist at The Washington Post.

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