Senate Republicans pass tax cut for rich
President Trump, flanked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, left, and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. | Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON—Defying seniors, workers, ailing people in wheelchairs, and even an all-night sit-in outside the U.S. Capitol, the GOP-run Senate passed the Republicans’ $1.5 trillion tax cut for the rich and businesses just before 2 a.m. on Dec. 2. The vote was 51-49.

But in the hours leading up the cliffhanger, GOP leaders had to keep maneuvering to find the crucial votes. With only 52 GOP senators, the leaders could afford to lose only two, as all 46 Democrats and both independents opposed the tax cut for the rich and business. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., joined them. The other 51 Republicans backed the bill.

The Dems spent their time pointing out the bill would enrich the rich, and trying to change it with amendments—all of which lost on party-line votes.

Organized labor, the protesters who conducted their own “filibuster” outside the Capitol, and retirees, including both the Alliance for Retired Americans and the largest seniors’ group, the American Association of Retired Persons, also opposed the tax cut for the rich.

The Alliance put out a last-minute alert to its members, at 9:43 am on Dec. 1, urging them to call senators to demand they vote down the tax cut for the rich. The vote was scheduled for 11 am, EST. But the vote was delayed as horse-trading continued on the Senate floor—amidst Democratic complaints about lack of a final text of the 600-plus-page measure.

“Crazy as it sounds, the Senate Republicans are close to voting on an unfinished and fatally flawed bill that will trigger automatic Medicare cuts of $25 billion next year and billions more after that,” the Alliance’s alert said.

“But it’s not over. PLEASE keep calling your Senators. They need to know you’re paying attention to what they are doing. Dial 866-828-4162 to be connected to yours.”

“Tonight I asked my Republican colleague Sen. Toomey”—Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.—“to guarantee to the American people there would not be cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid after this tax bill. He couldn’t do that,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., said during debate on the tax cut the day before.

“The Trump administration and Senate Republicans want to pay for expensive tax breaks to millionaires and big corporations by cutting the vital services working people depend on like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and public education. Don’t let them,” the AFL-CIO urged its members and allies, providing a toll-free number to call their senators.

The wheelchaired protesters took their case against the tax cut for the rich to senators’ offices earlier in the week. When they refused to leave, U.S. Capitol police arrested them, with some of them screaming in pain. The police also evicted children on crutches and in walkers.

They made the same points about Medicare and Medicaid cuts the bill would trigger.

The tax cut bill’s centerpiece is a huge and permanent tax rate cut for business, especially big business, from 35 percent to 20 percent. Two key GOP holdouts who fell into line on Dec. 1, Steve Daines of Montana and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said it didn’t cut enough for so-called “small business.” So GOP leaders added a $60 billion “goodie” to handle their complaint, boosting the bill’s $1.5 trillion 10-year-hole in the federal deficit.

“After weeks of fighting for Main Street businesses including Montana’s farmers and ranchers, I’ve decided to support the Senate tax cut bill which provides significant tax relief for Main Street businesses,” Daines said in a statement.

The bill would also temporarily double individuals’ $6,300 standard deduction, but that doubling would end in 2025. All deductions individual taxpayers now use – including home mortgage interest, medical expenses, state and local taxes, charitable contributions and business expenses (including union dues) – would be gone for good.

But not for firms. They get to keep the similar deductions, on top of the cut in their rates.

“This isn’t tax reform at all,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., top Democrat on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, whose panel was bypassed and whose pro-worker amendments lost on party-line votes. “What this is, is a grab bag full of special interest goodies for multinational corporations, powerful political supporters, and lots of people who are in the position to have vast amounts of influence to sway the tax code their way.

“The independent tax umpire, the Joint Committee on Taxation, has just told us that 37 million middle-class families are going to pay more in taxes in 2027. Those are the consequences of the Republican bill that writes into law a double standard—permanent breaks for the multinational corporations and, of course, temporary breaks for the working class.

“These cuts go to corporate stockholders,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “They don’t go to raise wages. They go to executive compensation. They don’t go to create jobs. They go to stock buybacks. They don’t go to middle-class Ohioans, Oregonians, Texans, Pennsylvanians, or Alaskans.”

To confirm his point, The Hill reported a Bank of America survey of multinational corporations showed they would use the GOP’s lower tax rates on foreign-earned profits to, in this order, to pay down debt, increase share buybacks and pay out more dividends. None of the firms said they would use the funds either to hire U.S. workers or give them raises.

“We know what will happen. Do you know what will happen?” Brown added. Quoting Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., he predicted: “After we pass this bill and the president signs it into law, the budget deficit will explode again. Do you know what will happen? You guys will say: ‘You know, we have this budget deficit, and we are going to have to raise the Social Security retirement age.’ Do you know what that means to a barber in Garfield Heights? Do you know what that means to a construction worker in Warren? Do you know what that means to somebody working in manufacturing in Mansfield? They can’t work until they are 70.”

Updated December 2, 2017.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.