“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
Thomas Jefferson said that about slavery, but he might well have been talking about what is now happening in Donald Trump’s Washington. Republicans are putting the finishing touches on a tax bill that takes from the poor to give to the rich. Then they plan to turn to savaging federal programs for the poor to make up for the deficits they’ve created. Millions of vulnerable Americans will suffer for their greed and their folly.
The tax bill — cobbled together in secret meetings without a public hearing, passed with handwritten amendments in the columns, legislators forced to vote without reading it — is simply a disgrace. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, lower-income people will end paying $5.3 billion more in taxes, while those earning $1 million or more will pay $5.8 billion less. The Tax Policy Center reports that nearly the top 1 percent will pocket two-thirds of its tax breaks. Ten years from now, when all the measures kick in, those earning $75,000 or less per year will end up paying on average more in taxes.
This is a brazen expression of money power, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch put it, an example of American plutocracy — a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy.
The vulnerable will suffer the costs. An estimated 13 million will lose health insurance. Those workers who get their insurance in the state exchanges will be hit with 10 percent increases in rates or more. Graduate students will be faced with massive tax hits, as the bill taxes tuition that universities waive (money that the students have never seen). Ten million low-income parents will be stripped of the child tax credit. This while the top one-tenth of 1 percent, who make over $4.5 million a year, pocket an average tax cut of $127,000. The plunder has become immoral.
Now, the Republican Congress will turn to savaging programs for the poor to help pay for the tax cuts. Next “we’re going to go into welfare reform,” Donald Trump threatened at a rally last week. Sen. Marco Rubio reassured business leaders not to worry about deficits; the next step will be “reducing spending. That will mean instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future.”
The House Republican Budget Resolution makes their priorities clear. It projects 40 percent cuts in programs for low- and moderate-income Americans by 2026. This includes cuts in Medicare, which will be turned into a voucher, losing value over time; more than $1 trillion in cuts from traditional Medicaid; and 30 percent cuts in food stamps, leaving millions without food assistance. Hit hard will be Pell Grants that help low-income students pay for college, child nutrition assistance for the very vulnerable and SSI benefits for the disabled and impoverished elderly. Domestic services — everything from education to transportation — will be cut. Spending on low-income programs is already as low as a percentage of the economy as it was in 1970.
Trump, of course, pledged that he would not cut Social Security and Medicare during the campaign. That pledge seems no longer operative. He promised a health care plan for “everyone.” Not true. He said the rich would not benefit from the tax cuts. Not true. He said that he would not benefit. A lie.
Republicans claim the tax cuts will produce growth and jobs. They claim the spending cuts will reduce deficits and help sustain growth. These are but excuses for the immoral.
The moral calculus is clear. We will be judged, the Bible says, by how we treat “the least of these.” In Isaiah 10:1-3, it is written: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?”
But politicians respond not to what is moral but to what is popular. What will be the reckoning at the polls? Will Americans fall for the smoke and distractions? Or will they vote in large numbers against those who impose this folly? Only a political reckoning will curb the damage that is being done to this country.