There is nothing populist about the GOP tax plan

I don’t know the best word for a tax plan that preserves tax breaks for owners of golf courses, while taking them away for medical expenses, adoptions and students, but it isn’t “populist.”

Like this year’s health bills, which would have slashed Medicaid while cutting taxes for the wealthy, the GOP tax plan does the most for people with the most. They’re not the kind of changes most Americans want.

Americans want corporations to pay more taxes, not less. In a 2015 Pew Center poll, a whopping 82 percent were very or somewhat bothered by the feeling that some corporations don’t pay their fair share; 64 percent were very bothered. Americans also disliked the idea that rich people aren’t paying their fair share, with 79 percent feeling this way very or somewhat strongly. Only 20 percent thought people with low incomes aren’t paying enough in taxes.

In a September 2017 poll, released after Trump put out his tax outline, 65 percent wanted corporations to pay more in taxes and 62 percent opposed tax cuts for the wealthy.

Yet the tax bills unveiled by Congress cut taxes for corporations and people with a lot of money.

White House advisor Ivanka Trump speaks about tax reform at a forum with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Friday in Biddeford. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

But it gets worse. Contrary to promises from Republican leaders, many Americans will see their taxes increase. According to an analysis by the New York Times, “roughly one-quarter of families in the middle class would see their taxes increase in 2018, by about $1,000 on average. By 2026, the share seeing an increase would rise slightly, to about one-third, and the average increase would rise to about $1,600.”

The richest Americans, this analysis found, are most likely to get cuts; 80 percent of them with annual income of $500,000 or more would, especially if their money comes from investments rather than a job.

New Yorker Ivanka Trump, who visited Maine last week, would gain a lot from cutting the estate tax, which now affects estates over $5.5 million and hits one-tenth of 1 percent of Maine estates.

According to Politifact, President Donald Trump would benefit from ending the alternative minimum tax and the proposed big rate drop on “pass through income.”

Oddly, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said “it’s very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy.” This is not rocket science. Surely a sophisticated investor like Mnunchin, with a net worth of around $500 million could come up something doesn’t give huge tax cuts to very rich people.

You also see a complete Republican turnaround in views on debt and deficits. Four years ago, Paul Ryan said “we owe the American people a balanced budget” and claimed the country was headed toward “a debt crisis.” Rep. Bruce Poliquin campaigned on paying off the national debt and passing a constitutional amendment requiring balancing the federal budget. But, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the tax plan they support would raise the budget deficit by $1.7 trillion in 10 years.

It’s a flip-flop and an absurd idea. It’s reasonable for people to take out loans for investments like a mortgage or a business, and governments to do so for infrastructure, medical research, and programs that help people and increase opportunity.

If there’s a recession, borrowing for a stimulus plan helps the economy. We’re not in a recession but are in the middle of expansion that started in June 2009.

In fact, today corporations have lots of cash on hand and the labor market is tight but companies are not raising wages. In short, there’s no reason to believe that tax cuts for the rich would somehow trickle down to typical Americans, as the plan’s backers claim. Nor, will the cuts stimulate the economy and, hence, cover the plan’s hefty price tag.

At the same time, the budget resolution, which passed with the votes of Poliquin and Sen. Susan Collins, includes massive cuts to programs Americans like, including $1.8 trillion in cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other health programs. People want more spending on health care, infrastructure, Social Security, medical research and education, not less.

As deficits and debt skyrocket following these tax cuts, another cycle will begin of claiming deficits and debt matter and more cuts to government spending are needed.

Meanwhile, regarding the GOP tax plans, wealthy donors are telling at least one congressman, “Get it done or don’t ever call me again.” That donor would benefit a lot while everyday Americans get little or even lose. And no one would call that populist.


Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.