The Republican tax plan before the Senate is unwanted, mostly unnecessary, and expensive. It's almost certainly not going to pass, much less get signed by President Trump, whose first year in office will end without any meaningful accomplishments in domestic or foreign policy.
But the bill is also not as bad as its hysterical critics want you to think.
"A Tax-Cut Bill to Make Scrooge McDuck Proud" is a headline our paper of record would run about any tax bill introduced by the GOP. It's not necessarily an inaccurate characterization (though I've always taken Scrooge for more of a Rockefeller moderate myself). But the fact that Scrooge will be pleased doesn't mean other people are going to be put out. Trickle-down economics doesn't create the broad base of wealth its bow-tied architects imagine — but it's not clear that it always destroys it either.
Is the Senate bill exceedingly generous to corporations, which it would tax at a rate of 20 percent as opposed to the current 35? Yes. Would it make about 5,000 extremely wealthy American families happy by raising the threshold for the estate tax? Of course. Does it — stupidly — subsidize McMansion Hell by capping the mortgage interest deduction at $1 million instead of $500,000? Alas. Does it make it harder for coastal types to pat themselves on the back for voting in mayors and governors who ignore pocket-book issues by eliminating their state and local tax deductions? Thank goodness. Is it a bit cruel to tax the tuition remission benefits of graduate students as income, even if there are about a million too many of them in this country? Sure, I guess, though as far as I am concerned we should be taxing university endowments as well.
But who would benefit the most if this thing were to become law? The answer is the very bottom rung of the working class who still pay income tax, especially lower-middle-class families with children. For the descendants of billionaires, getting to keep $50 million here or there is a rounding error. For working-class people an extra $1,000 or so is a lifeline. That's almost a year of car insurance payments, or a health-care deductible if they are unlucky enough not to be eligible for Medicaid. Giving more money to these people while increasing rates, however modestly, on our highest annual earners is so sensible that I have a hard time believing the GOP is even responsible for it.
What about everybody else? One thing this bill is not is a "middle-class tax hike."
This moronic claim has been made over and over again, virtually always without anything in the way of an explanation. What people who say this mean is that inflation is a thing and that eventually the child tax credit and other benefits will have to be increased again — just like the present bill is trying to do now — and that certain provisions will have be to be renewed at some point in the next decade. "Republicans Slap an Expiration Date on Middle-Class Tax Cuts," The Atlantic shrieks. A few paragraphs lower than most people will end up scrolling we read: "And it's also a bet that future Congresses — whether under Democratic or Republican majorities — will extend the cuts for individuals to stave off a politically unpopular tax increase." Dylan Matthews whines that "the bill would hurt the poor," a group he vaguely defines as "blue-state residents." His evidence? That those who make less than $3,000 a year will not be eligible for additional tax benefits. I don't think the tax code is the first place we should go to help people in such desperate circumstances.
These days even the most anodyne and workaday pieces of legislation are denounced in the shrillest language. It's like playing poker with someone who raises two or three times a hand and after five or six are saying "All in!" before the flop. It's exhausting and childish and makes adult conversation about public policy all but impossible. There are so many easier ways of just saying "Soak the rich!"
At some point those of us who favor single-payer health care and a strong safety net, whose instinct is to scoff away concerns about deficit spending, need to decide why it is that we actually favor higher taxes. Is it because we think the Treasury needs the money or because we want to punish wealthy people? You cannot simultaneously believe that we can afford to spend trillions of dollars on health care in the next few decades — we can — and insist that it is fiscally irresponsible to pay for our military or bring our corporate tax rate in line with the rest of the world.
Look deep into the bitter part of your heart. If you don't care about the balance sheet here and just want to bleed the richies, then why not go after the upper middle class too? If you subscribe to The New York Times and know what "green juice" is, it's hard not to guess the answer.