WASHINGTON — A triumphant President Donald Trump and jubilant fellow Republicans celebrated the passage of their $1.5 trillion tax overhaul Wednesday as a “historic victory for the American people.” The American people, however, will need some convincing.
As Trump and GOP lawmakers gathered at the White House to cheer their first major legislative achievement — and the biggest tax changes in a generation — some Republicans warned that the party could face a painful political backlash against an overhaul that offers corporations and wealthy taxpayers the biggest benefits and triggers the loss of health care coverage for millions of Americans.
There was no hint of anxiety at the White House, though, as the president and congressional Republicans pushed any qualms aside and reveled in a much-needed win at the end of a year marked by GOP infighting and political stumbles.
“We are making America great again,” Trump declared, personally thanking his “little team” of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, before lawmakers lavished praise upon a president they have often openly criticized.
“I don’t know if we’ll have bigger moments, but we hope to,” said Trump.
The president was expected to sign the bill at a later date for technical reasons. In fact, the signing may be postponed until the start of the new calendar year in order to delay $120 billion in automatic cuts to popular programs such as Medicare and spare Republicans from having to explain them in an election year.
The tax package provides a deep cut in the corporate rate, from 35 percent to 21 percent. On the individual side, about 80 percent of American households will get tax cuts next year, while about 5 percent will pay more, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
People who make less than $25,000 will see an average tax cut of $60; those who earn between $49,000 and $86,000 will get about $900, and those in the top 1 percent of income — earning more than $733,000 — will receive around $51,000 in tax savings, the policy center said.
The cuts will come at a price: The Congressional Budget Office predicts the legislation will add $1.4 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.
Some of the president’s strongest allies conceded that voters may not immediately warm to the new law.
Andy Surabian, a senior aide for a pro-Trump super PAC, likened the president’s position to that of Ronald Reagan, who struggled through low approval ratings early in his presidential term after Congress passed a tax cut that led to huge Republican losses in the 1982 midterm elections. Reagan went on to a sweeping re-election in 1984 after the economy improved.
Said Surabian: “Even if we don’t start seeing positive effects in 2018, the important thing here is President Trump sets himself up to win re-election in 2020.”
GOP strategists and candidates alike called on Trump to launch an immediate public relations tour to sell the plan to help avert an anti-Republican tsunami in 2018.
“People don’t understand it,” said Virginia Republican Senate candidate Corey Stewart, though he still called passage “a massive win” for Trump and the GOP.
Only about 1 in 3 voters have supported the legislation in recent days, according to several polls. About half of Americans believe the plan will hurt their personal finances. And 2 in 3 voters say the wealthy will get the most benefits, according to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll released last week
The White House said Wednesday that Trump will actively promote the bill. Aides argued that media coverage has not accurately portrayed the benefits and that people will come around as they feel the payoff.
Trump himself complained in a tweet that “defeated Dems” and the media were out to “demean” the tax package but “the results will speak for themselves, starting very soon.”
Democrats, who unanimously opposed the tax plan in Congress, were furious about the new policy yet upbeat about the potential political fallout in next year’s elections. They need to flip 24 House seats and just two Senate seats to take control of each chamber.
Asked if the tax bill will help Republicans hold the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi leaned into a microphone and said, “Let. Them. Think. That.”
The bill goes far beyond taxes.
While it does not repeal the law known as “Obamacare,” the legislation finalized by the House on Wednesday attacks a central tenet of the health care system by eliminating the requirement that all Americans have health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office says elimination of the “individual mandate” will boost health care costs by about 10 percent for those with coverage and leave 13 million additional Americans without health insurance in 10 years.
Millions of people will still remain covered under the law’s Medicaid expansion and health care exchanges, but Trump cast the package as a shadow repeal.
“We have essentially repealed Obamacare,” the president declared.
On taxes, the first modest effects will be felt in February paychecks.
People living in high-tax states like New York and California may ultimately pay more. Among those who benefit, the wealthy will make out far better than the working-class voters who fueled Trump’s victory last year.
Trump said Wednesday the bill will spur economic growth as corporations, flush with cash, increase wages and hire more workers. Democrats questioned, even mocked that prediction.
Reflecting the political risks, some of the nation’s most vulnerable House Republicans voted no.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., one of 12 GOP House members to vote no, said the tax plan would hurt many people in high-tax states. The bill imposes a $10,000 cap on taxpayers who deduct their state, local and property taxes. Currently, there is no limit on how much in state and local taxes you can deduct.
All but one of the GOP no votes came from like-minded Republicans facing re-election in 11 months in moderate districts across New Jersey, New York and California.
The road to a Democratic House majority, if there is one, runs through these districts.
All the salesmanship in the world won’t change the reality that the tax overhaul overwhelmingly favors the rich, Democratic critics said.
“People think it’s unfair. They want tax reform, they don’t want tax cuts for the wealthy,” said Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia. “And I think people will realize they’ve been sold a pig in a poke.”
The nonprofit recognized for ringing bells in front of Red Kettles outside local businesses and big box stores to help the homeless, the hungry and the families in crisis during the holiday season is in need of a little help itself this year.
The Salvation Army of Waco has received almost $20,000 less in donations for its Red Kettle campaign than it got last year, spokeswoman Diana Barrett said Wednesday afternoon. This year’s effort started early last month, and the last full day is Saturday.
Last year, the organization collected almost $155,000 during the campaign. With funding cuts that could hurt the group’s ability to offer certain services next year, hitting this year’s goal of $167,000 is even more important, regional coordinator, Maj. Bradley Caldwell said.
“It is a big deal, and I’m afraid the gap is going to increase before the season concludes based on last year’s figures and the trends we’re seeing this year,” Caldwell said.
Calling the subject “sensitive,” he would not say exactly what funding cuts The Salvation Army of Waco is facing. But it is enough to bring worry about how the organization will offer case work and services aimed at helping emergency clients in 2018, he said.
Money from the Red Kettle campaign often goes toward filling budgetary gaps and addressing whatever need exists, Caldwell said. But because donations have dipped this year, The Salvation Army of Waco is likely to fall well short of its goal in this year’s campaign, he said.
The reason behind the donation shortage is unclear, but Barrett said changes in consumer shopping habits and what she called donor fatigue could be contributing factors.
With more people shopping online and big box retailers offering pick-up services, less people are carrying cash and pocket change to spare, she said.
“As the shopping style changes, so does the traffic at each location as well,” she said.
The concern also stretches to whether donors realize The Salvation Army cannot use money given during hurricane relief efforts earlier this year for any other purpose, Barrett said.
The group saw an outpouring of donations to help families rebuild their lives after Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf Coast, according to a Salvation Army of Waco press release. But normal operations rely heavily on the kettle campaign, the press release states.
Waco has about 21 Red Kettle locations throughout the city but has not had enough volunteers to be at every spot, Barrett said.
Kettles are set up at Walmart locations, Belk, three Brookshire Brothers grocery stores in the county, Walgreens locations, Richland Mall and several other locations, Caldwell said.
“We’re very grateful for the giving heart of this community, and we understand there are conditions at play,” Caldwell said.
He just wants to remind residents the kettles are out there, he said. The Salvation Army will be collecting through 8 p.m. Saturday, he said.
Community members can also take donations to 4721 W. Waco Drive, send them to P.O. Box 268, Waco, TX, 76710, call 756-7271 or visit www.RedKettleReason.org.
“Mentally distraught or scholastically stunted.”
“Brain-dead liberal.” “Silly, social justice warrior.”
It was a parenting fail, they said. They should have taught her to focus on something important, they said.
The list of social media comments Midway High School graduate Miriam McCormick received as a senior in 2016, including those mentioned above, goes on and on. McCormick said she was even told she had no right to push for her school’s mascot name to be changed for girls from Pantherettes to Lady Panthers or Panthers, that her effort was a slap in the face of all the athletes who played as Pantherettes.
But what stung the most was a comment from a faculty member, who often “liked” some of the same malicious comments the now-19-year-old received on social media, she said.
“It’s tradition, why change it? Because a girl wasn’t taught to be strong on her own,” the comment read.
Now, a year and a half later, McCormick’s experience has fueled a statewide effort through the Texas Association of School Boards to protect other students in similar situations.
Since last December, she has been working with the nonprofit to get school districts to adopt policy language that prohibits employees from using electronic communications to harass or abuse a student.
“When hate is our first reaction to different ideas, we lose the ability of proper civil discourse,” McCormick said. “I’ve thought about it a lot. We start separating into bubbles and losing common ground we need to make progress in society.”
Midway Independent School District adopted the policy at Tuesday’s board meeting. The association recently distributed the suggested policy update, but it is unclear how many districts have adopted the change so far, the group’s Policy Service Division director Carolyn Counce wrote in an email to the Tribune-Herald.
The district initially signed off on changing the mascot name in summer 2016, but reversed course after outspoken pushback.
McCormick followed proper channels to have the girls’ mascot changed from Pantherettes to Panthers, but the move triggered an “immense amount of input and opinion from passionate alumni and concerned taxpayers,” Midway ISD spokesperson Traci Marlin said Tuesday. “Unfortunately, Miss McCormick experienced intense negativity enabled by social media.
“It was already in the employee handbook and a district expectation for employees to abide by professional behavior online, but one employee learned a lesson about overstepping advocacy efforts in the fray of social media. (Superintendent) Dr. (George) Kazanas worked with the McCormick family and employee to appropriately address the situation.”
The new policy language added to the district’s Employee Standards of Conduct on Tuesday clarifies expectations already in place for the district, Marlin said.
Out of respect for the employee, and the fact the issue happened a year ago, the McCormick family asked the Tribune-Herald not to state the name of the employee, but did provide documentation of the comment. The family said the district has provided an adequate apology since the backlash.
“It insulted my parents, and all the teachers and ministers who helped develop my character, because it suggested I identified so much on outside labels that I was an incomplete being without a mascot, which was hurtful and quite absurd,” McCormick said. “Then in liking the other comments, (the employee) encouraged this caustic and hostile environment, which was about me, and it was not healthy.”
At the time, McCormick felt nothing in the employee handbook explicitly prohibited faculty and staff from using social media in a way that could hurt a student’s learning, mental health or safety, she said.
“There’s student-to-student cyber bullying rules. There’s student-to-teacher cyber bullying rules. But there were no teacher-to-student, which you wouldn’t think you would need it, but it turns out you do,” McCormick said. “Whenever I found that loophole, I figured it should be filled for any students who come after me and go through same experience, but don’t have the same support system I do.”
McCormick was able to cope with the backlash against her and lean on her family and people close to her at church and at work, she said. Still, she worried about someone in a similar situation who might not have as much support or who is struggling with suicidal thoughts or other mental health issues, she said.
The anonymity of online comments added to her worries when she was in public, McCormick said.
“I was mostly harassed online, which means not all of these people have faces, but they were definitely are people out there in my community. They could be anyone. They could live down the street from me,” McCormick said. “So when I would go to a football game, there were all these community members. They could be alumni. They could be some of the people who bullied and harassed me online.
“It’s not a fun experience, not knowing whether this middle-aged person, when I’m walking down the stairs when they get up — are they someone coming to confront me?”
Ultimately, the best way to heal meant finding her voice again, Miriam McCormick’s mother, Sarah McCormick, said. Her daughter started fighting for change by writing out what she had been through and collecting screenshots of the comments, Sarah McCormick said.
The family let some time pass before reaching out to an attorney who could advise them on ways to accomplish the change.
David Schleicher, an attorney with a background in government relations and a former Waco Independent School District school board member, helped the family figure out the route most likely to protect as many students as possible, he wrote in an email to the Tribune-Herald.
They settled on pushing the policy change with the Texas Association of School Boards.
“It’s a win for all involved. Students are protected. Educators and staff have clearer direction,” Schleicher wrote. “As much bad news as there is in the world these days, getting to know ‘Miriam the Brave’ increased my hope the future will be better.”
McCormick is now studying business at Baylor University, and she is more sensitive to the need for civility online, she said.
Next time a school employee somewhere in Texas crosses a line with a student on social media, McCormick’s push for clearer cyber bulling policies will allow a principal or administrator to put an early stop to it, Schleicher said.
“If clearer policy language is what it takes to prevent inappropriate behavior, we are fully supportive of any prevention measures that can be put in place,” Marlin said.
An architectural design firm that developed a master plan for the Extraco Event Center site in 2010 will soon return before county leaders to discuss a planned redevelopment of the fairgrounds using a newly implemented venue tax.
McLennan County commissioners met Wednesday and discussed the need to hear from Populous about plans for the 60-acre fairgrounds off Bosque Boulevard and a proposal for the company to serve as master project architect for the new redevelopment, said Herb Bristow, an attorney with Haley & Olson P.C., a law firm retained by the county.
The county plans to issue a bond this fiscal year to cover as much of the $34.4 million project as possible. The project-specific bond would be repaid using revenue from new taxes voters approved earlier this year on short-term vehicle rentals and hotel stays.
“We’re well into developing the concepts behind what that project is going to look like,” Bristow said. “My sense is that we need to move forward under a project procurement process that would include putting the project together under a master project architect and construction manager at-risk type procurement that’s authorized under the Texas statutes.
“My sense is, is that is the most effective and efficient way to get this project delivered on time and within the budget confines that we are given and also give us the ability to have a master project architect oversee the project.”
Earlier this month, commissioners authorized 1519 Surveying LLC to start boundary survey work for the project. Sections of the 60-acre site are owned by the county, the city of Waco, and Waco Independent School District. The entities plan to swap land to make the most of the project.
Proposals for the overhaul include a $14 million, 800-square-foot multipurpose center connected to the existing coliseum, 300 new horse and livestock stalls, rebuilding Waco ISD’s Paul Tyson Field and the city’s Lake Air Little League facilities, and adding a creative arts building.
County Judge Scott Felton has said the venue tax is on track to bring in an average of $2 million a year. Revenue collections started for the 5 percent tax on short-term car rentals July 1 and the 2 percent hotel occupancy tax Aug. 1.
McLennan County voters approved the new taxes May 6, with 67.4 percent, or 2,856, voting in favor. Countywide turnout in the joint general election was 4,292 voters, less than 3.3 percent of the 130,830 registered voters.