GOP tax agenda is a grave threat to people in poverty

GOP tax agenda is a grave threat to people in poverty
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What do taxes have to do with poverty and opportunity? A great deal, actually.

Taxes might seem painful and tedious — painful to pay and tedious to deal with — but they are important. Taxes pay for vital services that ensure equal opportunity, promote upward mobility, and ultimately benefit all of us. Tax policies are the less glamorous half of our public budgets  —  those profoundly moral documents that reflect our country’s priorities and values.

Congressional Republicans have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform the tax code to make it more fair and just, and to improve the lives of working people and people living in poverty.

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And what have they produced? An agenda that is a moral and fiscal disaster.

 

Just as the season of giving takes hold, congressional Republicans are advancing tax legislation at a breakneck pace that would deliver massive giveaways to the ultra-rich at the expense of everyone else. House Republicans voted earlier this month to pass their legislation, while the Senate could vote as early as this week to advance theirs.

Though there are some differences between the two plans, the broad contours are largely the same: both would give lavish tax cuts to our country’s largest corporations and wealthiest people, while raising taxes on millions of middle- and moderate-income households.

Furthermore, both plans pave the way for a large-scale assault on crucial basic assistance programs. After driving up the federal deficit by some $1.5 trillion dollars over the next decade to pay for those tax cuts to the super-wealthy, lawmakers will likely use these shortfalls as pretext to slash programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and food and housing assistance — just as congressional Republicans voted to do earlier this year.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has already warned lawmakers that their tax plan could trigger an automatic $25 billion cut to Medicare in 2018 alone, and President Trump has himself suggested that “welfare reform” — a euphemism for attacking safety net programs — is next up on the legislative agenda.

Worse still, the Senate plan would also repeal the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate. As the CBO reports, this would strip roughly 13 million people of health insurance and cause premiums to soar for millions more consumers.  

And to boot, the House legislation would exacerbate the affordable housing crisis currently plaguing low-income Americans around the country, scrapping key credits and exemptions that help finance the production and maintenance of thousands of multifamily rental units.

Put short: the GOP tax agenda is nothing short of a reckless attempt at Robin Hood in reverse, devastating legislation that, in the end, would sharply increase poverty and hunger, decimate state budgets, and ultimately reduce opportunity for millions of low- and moderate-income people in this country.  

Now, tax policies could be used to improve the lives and chances at upward mobility of people living in poverty, if Congress was so inclined.

For example, rather than cutting taxes on the rich, congressional Republicans could use tax reform to capitalize on the broad, bipartisan support for improving the Child Tax Credit (CTC). The CTC is a tax credit that provides crucial financial support for tens of millions of low- and moderate-income families — but, because it is not refundable against payroll taxes, millions of our country’s poorest families and children are locked out of its benefits.

Thankfully, senators from both sides of the aisle — including Republicans Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioFormer Florida congressmen mull bipartisan gubernatorial run: report Winners and losers from Jim Bridenstine’s confirmation as NASA administrator GOP Senate candidates trade barbs in brutal Indiana primary MORE and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate confirms Trump’s pick to lead NASA Key senators warn Trump of North Korea effort on Syria Rep. Jordan: Action in Syria ‘should be debated in Congress’ MORE, and Democrats Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownVulnerable Senate Dems have big cash advantages Trump VA pick faces challenge to convince senators he’s ready for job Overnight Finance: Senate repeals auto-lending guidance, shattering precedent with vote | House passes IRS reform bills | Senate GOP fears tax cut sequel MORE and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOvernight Health Care: GOP pushes stiff work requirements for food stamps | Johnny Isakson opens up about family's tragic loss to opioids | Republicans refuse to back vulnerable Dem's opioids bill | Dems offer new public option plan Lawmakers discuss Latino education gap The Hill's Morning Report: Hannity drawn into Cohen legal fight MORE — have proposed expanding and increasing the credit to reach lower-income families. Doing so would make the CTC more like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) — one of our country’s most effective anti-poverty programs.

Nonetheless, Republican leaders have ignored these calls, electing to instead make adjustments to the CTC that largely benefit wealthy households, while offering only token help to some 20 million low-income kids and actively jeopardizing the credit for many in immigrant families.

Taxes are about values and priorities. Currently, the Republican tax plans prioritize the ultra-rich over everyone else, and lay out a harsh vision for our nation in which opportunity is more and more scarce for people experiencing poverty. Unless they wish to make this country much less fair and just, lawmakers should vote to kill this disastrous plan.

John Bouman is the president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.