Over the last few weeks, the Trib has put together opinion pages showcasing sharply differing perspectives on the massive tax-reform package racing through Congress to almost certain passage. Yet even as the Senate bill hits the floor for a vote today, confusion reigns supreme over what remains in a bill where tinkering and tweaking continually change its cost and impact, including what it means to certain individuals — hardly healthy for a bill that even Republicans admitted would heap another $1.5 trillion onto the national debt, if not lots more.
This legislative chaos is clearly a case of where, to paraphrase an infamous line from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2010, we may have to pass this travesty of a bill to learn what’s in it. As late as Thursday, Republicans were bowing to deficit hawks’ justifiable demands and rigging a “trigger” to reverse tax cuts if the promised economic growth falls short of projections and threatens to add even more to the national debt. Then a Senate parliamentarian blocked that move. At last report the Republicans were mulling other options. What a disgraceful mess.
What’s more, Democrats have been largely cut out of the process. We recall Republicans a couple of years ago telling us, when referring to the Affordable Care Act, that one legitimate reason the signature Democratic law could not endure is that it lacked even a single Republican vote. Fair point. So, using this logic, how can this tax-reform bill gain nationwide consensus and endure if not a single Democrat votes for it?
Yet Republicans are aglow. During his telephone town-hall meeting Tuesday, Congressman Bill Flores, whose district includes Waco, said the House bill offered more assets than even tax reform of the Reagan era. The Reagan law (and this bill) emphasized “trickle-down economics” — a much-debated and dubious theory that if rich folks and business classes do well, some of their good fortune will just naturally flow down to the rest of us as raises and good-paying jobs. One problem: federal budget deficits increased.
All this raises troubling questions. If this is a “working-class tax bill,” as Flores says, why are many tax cuts benefiting the middle-class folks written in ink that disappears in 2027 while cuts benefiting the wealthy and corporations are written in almighty stone? And if this is serious tax reform, why are provisions on the individual health-care mandate and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge also in this toxic stew, served up without proper debate or deliberation?
Forgive us, too, if we voice doubt about the spending discipline of the Trump administration and Congress amidst talk of a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill and what some say may be war with North Korea and even Iran. We assume there’ll be expenses. Only two weeks ago Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lambasted the White House because he felt it severely shortchanged Texas in coastal relief dollars after Hurricane Harvey. Which reminds us of one of the golden rules about cutting billions or trillions of dollars in tax revenue: You should do so only in times of great stability — and in the Age of Trump these sure ain’t them.