Tax reform is the issue of the day and the next few weeks in Congress. To most observers, the written plans and legislation will appear complex. But many experts agree it can all be summed up in simple terms: Current proposals will overwhelming benefit the wealthy while offering limited tax relief to low- and middle-income Americans. Republicans have been desperately trying to keep this fact and other aspects of its work in the dark.
At times, this is literally the case. In recent months, the GOP Senate has developed a habit of taking important votes in the dark of night. This includes a failed Obamacare repeal, a budget resolution, and a measure barring consumers from suing banks.
Lately, they just want as many people as possible to remain in the dark about the impacts of currently proposed tax reforms. Various factors point to real challenges ahead for the budgets of government programs reaching the everyman (or low- and middle-income Americans).
Somebody Has to Pay
Tuesday was a big day for seeing where the GOP stands on representing the interests of the everyman. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) notified the House that its tax reform bill will force cuts to Medicare and other line items unless members are able to surmount additional legislative hurdles. November 14 was also the day of a new Senate reveal — it’s tax bill would take another swipe at the Affordable Care Act, repealing its individual mandate. It’s predicted that this move will increase individual market premiums by 10 percent and leave millions uninsured.
Jam packed news cycles can cause people to forget such important events from the last 48 hours. But a couple weeks ago, Congress took another action that could affect low- and middle-income Americans. It passed a 2018 budget resolution. Like New Year’s resolutions, budget resolutions are a list of things they hope to accomplish but possibly never will.
To help fund tax cuts for wealthy people and corporations, the 2018 budget resolution expresses the GOP’s intention to slash funding for programs that benefit the everyman. A prolonged war on healthcare programs (Medicaid, Medicare, Affordable Care Act) is firmly on the agenda. And the party intends to cut $800 billion from non-defense discretionary spending. This broad category includes items such as Head Start, public schools, student loans, childcare, work training, homeless shelters, and income assistance.
The Bleeding Has Already Begun
Well before the 2018 budget resolution, spending on low-income programs was on the decline.
Some of this was happening naturally. Increased government investments tied to the Great Recession of 2007–2009 and recovery had expired. As the economy improved, decreasing numbers of people were relying on programs like SNAP (aka food stamps). Other happenings were unnatural. When Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011, it created austerity measures that have already cut spending and will likely continue to do so over the next couple years.
As Trump and the new GOP-controlled Congress were being sworn in earlier this year, federal spending on low-income programs (aside from healthcare) was in line with historical averages. And scheduled future cuts were likely to cause spending to dip below the 40-year norm.
Where Are Our Priorities?
Two percent. According to the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, low-income programs (other than healthcare) represent about 2 percent of America’s economy. Spending levels look like a boring flat line across decades of population growth and societal change. In most arenas, static 2 percent investments of resources point to low priority areas.
America’s low-income programs represent the very least a wealthy nation can do for its citizens. Healthcare and food are the priorities. We help people survive. But what about the need to thrive? Spare change (less than 1 percent of the economy) goes towards education and job training.
Slashing the budget threatens lives but it also debilitates already marginal efforts to help people escape poverty and realize the American dream.
Playing Out a Familiar Script
The GOP suggests that America can afford tax cuts for the wealthy. We can’t. The CBO projects that the House version of the plan will increase the deficit by $1.7 trillion.
As debts soar, it is unlikely that the Party of Lincoln will reverse its tax cuts. Instead, they will push for budget cuts to programs like Social Security, Medicaid, SNAP (aka Food Stamps). Line items that largely benefit low- and middle-income Americans will be labeled as “unaffordable” while the wealthy continue to pocket money that would have otherwise gone to the greater good. No crystal ball is necessary for these predictions. This well-worn storyline most recently played out during the George W. Bush Administration and its aftermath.
There are other familiar lines in the script. They include language about complicated bureaucracies, massive fraud and abuse, citizens who are lazy losers. For each of these “problems” identified by the GOP, the “solution” is always the same. It is to cut spending. The ultimate goal is clear. It is to starve and eventually kill most of the government. The government is the people.
Voted Least Popular
The American stock market failed. Unemployment rates soared, as did desperation and hopelessness. The government helped relieve the pain. FDR’s New Deal created jobs programs, unemployment insurance, union protections, social security, and other innovations. These Democratic policies were tremendously popular among voters. American Amnesia, a recent book, documents a history of public opinion (backed by electoral smack downs) that forced Republican foes to abandon any dreams of destroying major social programs.
Times have changed. When the stock market failed in 2007, few were old enough to remember life before the New Deal. Federal programs and efforts ensured that Americans felt far less pain than they did during the Great Depression. Yet polls were reflecting the emergence of a new trend — increasingly unfavorable views towards the government.
Nevertheless, some things remain the same. Most Americans continue to oppose spending cuts for anti-poverty efforts and express even stronger support for specific programs like Social Security, Medicare, and education. At bottom, the everyman believes the federal government should be ensuring a minimum standard of living for its citizens.
Ultra conservatives have likely influenced the way some Americans view government. However, their aim to weaken and destroy social programs continues to be unpopular.
It Always Comes to Light
Conventional wisdom says that what’s done in the dark always comes to light. These are unusual political times. Hopefully, a byproduct will be a stripping away of the smokescreens and propaganda. Left in the light will be the realities of current GOP policies. The party has moved from the center to a far right that is working to destroy social programs that benefit low- and middle-income Americans. Not only are these programs helpful in times of national and personal crisis, but they continue to be popular among Americans. It’s past time to step out of the dark and have an open and honest national conversation about their future.
(Originally Posted on Extra Newsfeed on November 16, 2017)