The Republican Party is on the verge of passing a highly unpopular bill that has been rushed through Congress with complete disregard for regular order, lambasted by both liberal and conservative economists as an unmitigated disaster, and which would deliver tax cuts to America’s wealthiest while hitting its poor the hardest. If the bill becomes law, the results would be especially devastating for residents of high-tax states like California, New York, and New Jersey who would lose state and local tax deductions, for graduate students who would lose their tax exemption for tuition waivers, and for many middle- and lower-income families who would lose access to affordable healthcare with the individual mandate off the books. Even for the modern Republican Party, it is an astounding abdication of moral and fiscal responsibility.
But one of the most cynical aspects of the Republican tax bill — and there are plenty to choose from — lies in the details of how it’s being sold on the Hill. Through a combination of optimistic forecasting, willfully misrepresented half-truths, and outright lies, Republican lawmakers have succeeded in deluding themselves that they’re acting in the interests of middle and lower class Americans. All along, they’ve stayed mum on their real goals: to line the pockets of their donors and create the fiscal impetus to gut social benefits along the way. Even Senators McCain, Collins, and Murkowski — the so-called moderates who torpedoed their party’s failed attempts at ACA repeal this summer — have chosen to debase their own principles for the sake of the rich, as if the collapse of the healthcare system might simply resolve itself this time around.
To promote this scam, Republicans have taken the tack of bending long-term policies into short-term politics. As written, the bill is projected to deliver a modest tax break to the middle class in the next few years, an outcome that’s easy to sell to lawmakers and voters alike. The catch — and it’s a big one — is that these benefits will disappear within a decade, whereas the generous cuts to the corporate rate will stay in place.
This legislative sleight of hand provides some much needed wiggle room for Republican Senators unable to justify their bill’s costs and consequences on merit. Now, proponents of the bill can deflect questions about their plan to take from the poor and give to the rich by pointing to its moderate short-term effects on the middle class — an illusion of conservative compassion which might just stave off a Democratic insurgency in 2018, so they hope.
But soon enough, these breaks will begin to phase out, and the money being set aside for the wealthy must come from somewhere. In the end, ordinary Americans will foot the bill, whether through higher taxes or lost benefits.
But the bill’s cruelty won’t end there, because the Republican tax plan is not only vicious, but costly. Down the line, the bill’s increased burden on the deficit will only provide more leverage for the Republicans to cut popular social programs. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is already making this argument, telling reporters on the Hill this week that cuts to Medicare and Social Security will be a key part of the Republican plan to offset the bill’s fiscal toll. It’s worth remembering that in Kansas, where a similarly radical conservative tax plan tanked the state’s budget and appears to have slowed growth, the government shored up its lost revenues by cutting spending on education and infrastructure.
The Republican Party has demonstrated time and time again that they are either a party of worrying self-delusion or one based simply on a disgraceful reverence for the wealthy. Neither makes for an acceptable form of governance. Neither should have a place in shaping our country’s economic and social institutions. Yet the Republican Party, as always, seems intent on having it both ways.
Benjamin Sorensen, a senior studying political science, is a weekly columnist for Stanford Politics.