Opinion

The Republican Party's top priority is to raise taxes on the poor. Literally.

In their first legislative deal following the 2014 midterms, Republicans tried to scuttle tax credits for those on the lower end of the income ladder

Following their convincing victory in the 2014 elections, everyone is wondering what Republicans will do with their new majority in the Senate and House. Well, their policy agenda is becoming clear. It will be unrestrained class warfare against the poor.

This priority was made apparent over the last week during the negotiation of a colossal tax cut package. Senate Democrats and Republicans had been doing some low-key negotiations to renew a slew of tax cuts for corporations and lower- and middle-income Americans, according to reporting from Brian Faler and Rachel Bade at Politico.

Then President Obama announced his executive action on immigration. Enraged Republicans promptly took vengeance on all the goodies for the working poor (as well as for clean energy), cutting them out of the deal and proposing a raft of permanent tax cuts for corporations alone worth $440 billion over 10 years. Cowed Democrats, led by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), were about ready to go along, prompting a decidedly justified outcry from liberals. Obama then threatened a veto, and the negotiations broke down entirely.

A few takeaways from this. First, it's yet another reminder that Republicans don't care about the national debt. Conservative carping about the debt is 100 percent of the time a rhetorical cudgel deployed with utter cynicism against programs they dislike for other reasons. When the topic is food stamps or unemployment insurance, they demand offsets to pay for them. (Because "we're broke," as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) put it in a similar context.) But when it comes to dropping planeloads of money on corporations and rich people, Republicans will casually blow a half-trillion hole in the 10-year budget without blinking.

We can safely assume that should Republicans win in 2016, they'll take all the reduction in the budget deficit accomplished over the Obama years (at great cost and for no benefit, but that's another story) and do the same thing that George W. Bush did: hand it immediately to the rich.

That's not all, though. Unlike Bush, who gave his eye-wateringly regressive tax cuts a patina of democratic legitimacy by cutting the non-rich in on a small fraction of the spoils, Republicans are now firmly committed to the idea that poor people don't pay enough in taxes. The Earned Income Tax Credit was originally a conservative alternative to the welfare state, but increasingly only Democrats support it. Republicans are convinced that the EITC is riddled with fraud, and that voting for it means giving welfare to unauthorized immigrants. (In reality, the EITC results in quite a lot of technically improper payments, but mostly as a result of unnecessary complexity.)

Massive transfers of money to the rich are one half of the Republican economic policy agenda; massive transfers of money away from poor are the other half. And the cuts would be cruel indeed:

For example, a single mother with two children working full time in a nursing home for the minimum wage and earning $14,500 would lose her entire [Child Tax Credit] of $1,725 if the CTC provision expires. [CBPP]

Apparently, cutting the income of a poor working single mother by 12 percent is good and proper conservative policymaking in 2014. Because immigration.

Finally, we see that Republicans are still incapable of the basics of political governance. They can't maintain any sort of agenda outside of being against what Obama is for. Once the president drives them into a frenzy — which is to say, anytime he does anything at all — any negotiations on deck will be blown up as punishment. These days, divided government means constant high-stakes conflict, as everything, including tax credits for working moms, is weaponized in a naked struggle for power.

But should Republicans ever get the run of things, we now have a very good idea of what's in store: pain for the afflicted, and benefits for the comfortable.

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