WASHINGTON – Think of the tax revision bill that just passed the House as “The Son of Citizens United v. F.E.C. Tax Bill.” The title refers to the infamous 2010 Supreme Court ruling that unleashed the torrent of secret, and unlimited, corporate and union campaign cash on this town. It changed politics and governance in America by moving both behind the curtains, perhaps forever.
Today’s phony, trickle-down idea was first popularized in the early 1980s by then-Rep. Jack F. Kemp, R-Hamburg. The theory was that if you make rich men and women richer, their wealth would somehow seep down through the cracks to the middle class. George H.W. Bush, then a rival for the presidency, dismissed Kemp’s notions as “voodoo economics.”
Kemp couldn’t make it fly.
The theory was as phony then as it is now. But much has changed since the 1980s. The biggest alteration is the Citizens United ruling that sends barrels of secret corporate money into Washington. Now no incumbent in the House or Senate has to worry about raising campaign cash if he or she goes along. It is sitting there waiting in one trough or another. Campaign finance restrictions are now meaningless.
Incumbents don’t need to worry about you or me, or the local newspaper editorial page. They don’t even need the support of owners of medium-sized businesses – those that are left.
This flood of cash has paid for more right-wing think tanks here and provided new employment in corporate influence for perhaps thousands of men and women, including many former members of Congress and their staffs.
At the same time, there has been a concurrent expansion of chains of right-wing radio stations and TV outlets, plus Fox News, all marching to the beat of the same drummer. Sadly, there has been a decline in public reliance on daily newspapers, where these complicated issues are still hashed out in great detail, every day.
All these forces – the cash, the lobbyists and right-wing media influence – made the preposterous House legislation possible, and passable. There are hundreds of new media platforms telling middle-class families not to worry about their deductions for state and local taxes, for hospital expenses, student loan interest and the rest. Just trade in these traditional deductions to pay for some magical expansion of jobs, and rising wages and higher corporate profits and corporations eager to share the booty with us. President Trump’s chief economist, Kevin Hassett, goes on TV and says barefacedly that the tax revision bill – lowering the top corporate rate – will raise average household income more than $4,000 a year.
According to what precedent?
Just before the House vote, three of Obama’s defense secretaries, Leon Panetta, Ashton Carter and Chuck Hagel, issued a warning that Congress is willing to bust the budget to give a tax break to major U.S. corporations, and endanger the nation’s defense.
It should have struck a note with traditional Republicans who campaigned for years to cut deficits, balance the budget and strengthen our fighting forces and materiel. None of these issues is of concern, however, with the cadre of lobbyists who populate the finest eateries and crowd this city’s massive new office buildings and condos. These lobbyists were sent here to get a tax cut for the rich, and the heck with everything else.
The national debt is now $20 trillion, and will grow by $1.4 trillion to $21.4 trillion just as a result of this bill. Hassett has the answer: The magic of the marketplace will grow us out of the trillions of debt – which has close to tripled since the Bill Clinton days.
Meanwhile, Republicans are looking at cuts in Medicare, as well as Medicaid, and other social programs to put the nation into some kind of balance.