“I will give you everything,” Donald Trump promised as a presidential candidate, and as president, not only has he continued to make that promise, but also the entire Republican Party has followed suit. Of course, they can’t actually deliver everything.
But this has become their guiding principle: that governing does not actually require making difficult choices, or when it does, one should just pretend that it doesn’t.
That’s one key message from the nine-page document that the Trump administration released Wednesday outlining the tax cuts it wants Congress to pass. The message in the plan itself and in the arguments they are using to justify it is that there are no choices to be made. We can have it all—cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy, which will shower great jobs on the rabble, which will not only not increase the deficit, it will cut it because so much new revenue will pour in.
If all that were actually true, it certainly would be terrific. But it isn’t.
We saw this same scenario play out on health care. The various Republican plans involved brutal cuts to Medicaid and insurance subsidies, the consequence of which would be that tens of millions would lose coverage, not to mention the removal of many of the Affordable Care Act’s vital consumer protections. But when they were questioned about these consequences, they’d say, “No no! Nobody will lose coverage! Everything will be cheaper and better! And we’ll protect people with preexisting conditions!” The supposedly serious people in the party made essentially the same argument that Trump did when he promised, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.”
But it wasn’t true. And neither is it true that a bunch of tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy will create spectacular economic growth—Trump claimed this week that his plan will push growth to 6 percent, which no sane person thinks will happen—and it’ll all pay for itself because revenues will begin pouring in.
To be fair, the GOP plan isn’t solely tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy; there are some provisions in there aimed at the middle class. But the bulk of the goodies go to the high end. Here are some of the highlights of their proposal:
—Cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent.
—Collapse the current seven income tax brackets to three.
—Lower the top income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent.
—Eliminate the inheritance tax.
—Eliminate the alternative minimum tax, which is meant to ensure that rich people don’t get away with paying no taxes.
—Create a 25 percent tax rate for “pass-through” companies, many of which are things such as law firms, that give their profits directly to individuals. Another notable pass-through company is the Trump Organization.
—Double the standard deduction (although this is done in ways that could mean the benefit to those at the low end would be tiny).
—Eliminate some unspecified deductions, but keep the mortgage interest deduction and charitable giving deduction that are so vital to wealthy taxpayers.
Politically speaking, it’s a formula that has worked before: offer ordinary people a little something to diffuse opposition, while you give spectacular benefits to the wealthy. If you learned that you were going to get a $500 tax cut, you might say, “Hey, sounds great,” even if the CEO of the company you work for is going to get a $1 million tax cut. At the very least, you’d be less inclined to take to the streets to protest the inequity.
When they’re confronted with the fact that this tax cut would exacerbate inequality and balloon the deficit they used to pretend to care about when a Democrat was in the White House, Republicans protest that in fact, it will work out great for everyone. There are no hard choices to be made, because the cuts at the top will trickle down to the masses and pay for themselves with all the increased revenue they’ll generate.
No serious economist believes this to be true; in fact, the truth is just the opposite. Tax cuts don’t pay for themselves, and corporate tax cuts in particular flow overwhelmingly to those at the top. Corporations don’t react to a cut in their taxes by taking all the extra profits and hiring new people or boosting the wages of their lowest-paid employees. The money mostly goes to things such as bonuses for executives, stock buybacks and dividends, which are paid to wealthy shareholders.
The truth is that Republicans are in fact making choices with this tax plan, just as they made choices on health care. Those choices mean that they’ll accept enormous deficits and worsening inequality if that’s the price of giving the wealthy a big, beautiful tax cut. Needless to say, that’s not exactly a winning message. So they simply come up with creative ways of pretending that these trade-offs don’t exist at all. Which once again proves that they just don’t take the task of governing seriously.
I recently watched “XQ Super School,” a live broadcast that was on all four major U.S. networks. It addressed how America’s high schools are not keeping pace with many other countries. What’s worse is Idaho is ranked one of the lowest in our country. Watching this broadcast brought to my attention that American high schools have primarily been unchanged for over 100 years. It’s clear we all have a lot of work to do.
In the 1900s it made sense for schools to prepare kids for factory work. But in 2017, Idaho’s youth need to develop skills such as critical thinking and solving complex problems creatively and collaboratively. They need to develop skills that will allow them to apply the information they acquire in traditional subject areas like English, math, and science. Are students in Idaho ready for the 21st-century jobs? The jobs our kids will be seeking will look completely different than those of today or in the past. Information technology is spurring change, and Idaho’s education system must adjust. I believe it’s time we advocate for our kids and their future and rethink high school.
You didn’t read about it in the newspapers or see it on television, but Democrats and Republicans packed the Lincoln County Courthouse last week in Shoshone. We didn’t duke it out in the courtroom, it wasn’t that kind of gathering. There were no plaintiffs or defendants to speak of — just concerned citizens and government officials. We did not address a judge, we addressed each other. Our cause was a common one: to help save a small Idaho town.
Along with us was Rep. Steven Miller, two Lincoln County commissioners, including Rebecca Wood who coordinated the meeting, Shoshone’s police chief, school officials, a member of Shoshone’s city council and other regional state officials. At stake was the future of the Idaho Transportation Department District Four headquarters in Shoshone. Our goal: to keep it there. It’s not often that the status of a 50-year-old building warrants this kind of attention, but there was a larger issue at play. Idaho’s rural small towns are in jeopardy and Shoshone was in the crosshairs that day.
By now you’ve heard the story. The ITD building in Shoshone is well past its prime. Rather than renovate the current structure the ITD determined it would be cheaper to simply move the District Four headquarters to a new location. The lowest cost option would be to move it somewhere else in Shoshone. However, the board is also considering moving it to the Twin Falls/Jerome area. The ITD employs about 60 people in Shoshone. For a town of 1,500 people, that’s a lot. If the ITD moves its district headquarters out of Shoshone, the estimated annual economic impact on the city and Lincoln County is $300,000 — every year.
Despite what you may read or hear, Idaho Democrats and Republicans get along pretty well, especially that day. We were there for the local farmers and ranchers who gathered for coffee that morning in the Manhattan Cafe and the Phillips 66 to talk about feed prices; for the young school children who gathered to get their pictures taken in front of the “Welcome to Shoshone” mural in downtown; and for the dozens of people who go to work every day at the ITD in Shoshone. While those who live in the region’s larger cities may find these scenes a little hokey, there is nothing hokey about the people who make their lives in Idaho’s small towns — many of which are literally fighting for survival.
The ITD board meeting room was packed that afternoon. It was probably the biggest crowd for such a meeting in recent memory. We each took our turn at the podium making the case for keeping the ITD in Shoshone. At one point, a board member asked Rep. Miller where he lived. “Fairfield,” Miller responded. “Just up the creek from Sally (Toone).” Rep. Toone lives in the comparatively “large” town of Gooding, population 3,500. You’re welcome to plug in “Fairfield” and “Gooding” into your GPS, but I doubt your phone will tell you they’re “just up the creek” from one another. Still, the people of Camas, Lincoln and Gooding counties know exactly what Rep. Miller was talking about. Small-town folks don’t need a GPS to find their neighbor, no matter what political party they belong to.
Speaker after speaker made their case for Shoshone. While the fate of a building was the specific topic at issue, each presenter evoked a larger, more meaningful theme. This board meeting was about much more than some 50-year-old structure. It was about a community. The message seemed to get across to at least a couple of the board members who expressed empathy for Shoshone’s plight. In the end though, the board approved a resolution that indicates the ITD is prepared to pack its bags for a bigger city. A final decision is expected as early as October.
At its root, politics is about people. Literally. The word “politics” is derived, in part, from the Greek words “polites” which means citizen and “polis” which means city or community. As politicians, we lose sight of that sometimes. But that day we fought for the citizens of a small Idaho community that may lose 60 jobs. If that happens, “up the creek” may take on a new meaning in the city of Shoshone.
If you feel the same way, call 208-886-7800 and tell ITD to do its part for Idaho’s small towns before it’s too late.