Friday, December 22, 2017

Trump Tax Cut and Golf Club of 2017 Act

This tragic-looking iced concoction in a giant brandy balloon is a $15 Trump Grill vodka martini. You and a date could spend your Trump tax cut for next July on several of them.

What I've been feeling on the Democratic response to the tax bill is really, really uncomfortable every time somebody says, "This is a tax hike on the working class," even though that is true in a completely nonmystical sense, because people are mostly not going to see it until 2024, if ever. Whenever the IRS figures out how to implement this thing, in March or April if they're lucky, people who study their pay stubs are mostly going to notice that they really did get a tax cut, just as Trump promised they would, and they're going to think we're liars or hysterics.

Which is where I find myself intersecting with this piece by John Judis for TPM:
I don’t buy the argument – voiced by Democratic pundits, political consultants, and even a few economists – that the bill will doom the Republicans to defeat in 2018 and even 2020. Like many things I read or hear these days from liberals, it’s wish fulfillment disguised as analysis.
Though I really don't understand the emphasis on what the "bill will" do as opposed to what the Democrats should or shouldn't do with it. If the 2018 election was going to be this coming Tuesday it seems clear that Republicans would really lose in a wave, because they hate the bill, but they don't know what's in it, and hardly anybody believes they'll see a cut, which is wrong, and partly a consequence of Democratic messaging.

That's a lie too, when it leaves out time qualifications; some proportion of Americans approaching 80.4% will pay less federal income tax for a while and then it gets worse, out into the edges of the foreseeable future, unless Congress goes back to fix it, for all but the wealthiest 20%.

Distributional analyses from Tax Policy Center.

But the election is 11 months and as many as 12 or 16 paystubs away from this week's perceptions, and years away from the moment when our taxes are scheduled to rise.

On the other hand, most people don't study their pay stubs and won't know one way or the other, as we learned in tax cuts during the W. Bush and Obama administrations, but everybody's inclined to feel they're paying too much (especially when they look at the really scary lump of the federal insurance payments, for Medicare and unemployment and Social Security, the things that this bill doesn't change at all). And as you see above even at the beginning it's going to be less than $60–$70 a month for most people, less than $100 a month even for the better-off fourth quintile (though I imagine that average is on a pretty wide spread between people who get a pretty nice break and those who have to itemize deductions and might see their taxes rise substantially right away). Let's go to a nicer restaurant than usual, Trump's picking up half the check!

So to me the lesson is not that Democrats should avoid talking about the tax bill, as Judis seems to suggest, but that we should be pretty careful not to overdo it, and especially not mislead voters into fearing a disaster that won't come.

For example the thing about the devastating automatic Medicare cuts of up to 25% that would be triggered by the increased deficit under "pay-go" rules. That was never going to come anywhere near happening, any more than it happened any of the times it was possible over the past 17 years, unless the Republican congressional leadership really fucked up (it still could, because the Republicans can't waive the cuts on their own, and Democrats want the Republicans to pay something for their cooperation), and it was a silly and self-defeating waste of energy to try to frighten everybody about it.

Booman writes,
We saw something similar with the Affordable Care Act, where the bill was unpopular and a political liability for the Democrats who had voted for it. This, too, had to do more with the process than the substance, and also with who won the media war and what news sources the people chose to believe. It took several election cycles for Obamacare to become popular...
Thinking about the Republican attack on the ACA is a useful way of looking at the problem, I think. It was extremely effective over a considerable time period, though sunk in the end by the attackers' need to lie about everything. A similarly broad-based assault on the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" would be able to rely entirely on the truth:

  • Rollout: The Affordable Care Act gave itself four years in which to be implemented, and when the time came there were some serious glitches in the website, intended to be the central shopping spot for insurance customers in the non-group insurance market for the states that refused refused to set up their own websites (maybe around 5% of the national health insurance market overall), so that it took a good six weeks, well into the 2013 open enrollment period, before it was operating really smoothly, to vast panic and predictions of utter failure, which turned out to be greatly exaggerated (as they still are, with the Exchange doing extremely well in spite of Trump sabotage even as Trump continues to say it's "imploding"). The "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act", drafted in a record seven weeks and with the ink still wet on the marginal manuscript additions, needs to be going in a week, which it clearly won't
    America’s new tax system will go into effect in just 12 days, and payroll companies are bracing for confusion as they figure out new withholding rules that will affect millions of American paychecks.
    The Treasury Department and the IRS will have to quickly write new regulations to implement the new law, governing everything from the tax regime for businesses that don’t organize as corporations to the endowments of the nation’s elite universities and how multinational corporations are taxed on the profits they make abroad.
    —and then Congress is going to have to start correcting all the mistakes at the same time.
  • Legality: The ACA was subjected to a string of legal attacks from the moment it was passed (incidentally nobody remembers this, but one of the liveliest and most faithful plaintiffs in the series of lawsuits launched against Obamacare was the young attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, made head of the EPA in recognition of his similarly unending attacks on Obama's environmental action), mostly doomed as there really wasn't anything unconstitutional about the Act; I'm not saying that's not true about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but interesting theories are starting to circulate about whether the open use of bribery into pressuring the Republican legislators into voting for it though they knew it was a worthless piece of garbage
    Take, for example, New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins’ candid identification of the “pressure” he was under to vote for it: “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it (the tax bill) done or don’t ever call me again.’” For donors, Sean Lansing, the former chief operating officer of the Koch brothers’ political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, provided a confirmation in June: “If they don’t make good on these promises (for tax reform) ... there are going to be consequences, and quite frankly there should be.”
    This unusually direct evidence of paying or withholding money for votes on the tax bill, and of legislators’ motivation, may well satisfy the narrow window that the Supreme Court has left for successful prosecutions under federal law. Essentially, what it takes to push our ordinary campaign finance system, which has been characterized as “legalized bribery,” over the line into the illegal is proof of a quid pro quo (this for that) exchange of contribution for a particular future legislative vote. It seems naive to understand these statements in any other way. (Stephen Gardbaum/San Francisco Chronicle)
    might violate Fifth Amendment protections of the public against laws passed by illegitimate processes... Just saying.
  • Sob Stories:  The ACA gave rise to a whole new genre of fiction, in the form of anecdotes describing folks who'd been unable to get affordable insurance on the individual market (as if they'd had any such options before the implementation of the Act) which I used to investigate under the general rubric of "Obamacare Tragedy Watch", and which invariably turned out to be wrong; the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is, while you and I get our $40 a month, going to produce a different kind of story at its margins, of real abuses of which I just got my first sample in comments from maxk1947 to a post yesterday:
    I'm retired, with a fixed income. My gross taxable income is $17K. I average about $11K itemized deductions for medical and state/local taxes; with my personal exemption, I can deduct $15K. Under the new law, with only a $12K deduction, my Federal income tax will double! I suspect mine is not an unusual case. Thanks, McConnell!
    —while the parallel stories about how much Betsy DeVos or Wilbur Ross or Steven Mnuchin or Ivanka Trump is cleaning up by the millions are just going to be getting worse and worse as the details get clearer. You can say Americans don't care about inequality, but they do if it's rubbed in their faces, one big reason why Trump is the most unpopular president in history, and Steven Mnuchin is just the man for the job.
  • Consequentiality: Then there's this whole issue that gets the GOP so exercised of how they had no matter what to come up with Something Big like Obama and the Congress did in his first year (passing the Lily Ledbetter Act, passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act , "more than 50% bigger than the New Deal" in constant dollars, rescuing the US automobile industry from certain demise, passing historic climate change legislation and negotiating the Copenhagen agreement, appointing Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, eliminating CIA black interrogation sites and investigating the CIA over its torture methods, and passing the Affordable Care Act), to be able to say "we had this one major accomplishment" and this large-scale wealth transfer of somewhere well upwards of a trillion dollars in which the top 1% gets 83% of the money is what they came up with. "My parents shifted around 10% of the GDP and all I got was this lousy check for $930."
And beyond this week's little flurry (see Steve's piece) of thousand-dollar bonuses being paid to the employees of Comcast and AT&T and the like in an apparently direct solicitation of the Trump administration to approve of whatever skullduggery they have in mind.
I don't see what's going to happen between now and November 2018 that's going to make it look like anything bigger, and if you think I'm wrong I know about a job at Carrier Air Conditioning you should apply for.

This is Trumpery, and everybody's starting to get familiar with it except for the deadender Bannonites who are just as likely not to vote in a congressional election anyway, as we should have learned from Alabama.

So all in all I absolutely think we ought to allow ourselves to talk about the tax bill all we want, as long as we don't talk about it in apocalyptic terms. It's large in size and injustice, but it's really very petty. It may not even be that hard to fix if we get to it soon.

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