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Filibustering for Fairness

Late last week, as Republicans in the U.S. Senate stood poised to pass their version of the morally backward tax giveaway plan that takes from the needy to give to the rich, Public Citizen joined with partner organizations for a People’s Filibuster to protest the bill and the fast-track partisan process being used to rush through this harmful package of cuts for the 1%. By using the special budget “reconciliation” process, the majority was able to sidestep the Senate minority’s ability to filibuster—so we did it for them.

Lasting longer than 27 hours, while the Senate was debating the bill, our filibuster outside on the Capitol grounds gave the opportunity for the concerns of real people to be raised. This was critical since, as Republicans have even admitted, they are passing this tax bill to appease their donors. But, with chants of “kill the bill” and “shame” echoing off the halls of Congress during the filibuster, we knew that for at least that moment, senators were being forced to hear what we had to say.

During Public Citizen’s portion of the filibuster, our president, Robert Weissman highlighted the stunning amount of self-dealing that is encapsulated in the tax plan since Trump and his corporate cabinet stand to gain untold millions from provisions like repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax; slashing the rate for “pass-through” companies; greatly weakening, or possibly repealing, the estate tax; giveaways for real estate investors; on and on. And, our vice president of legislative affairs, Lisa Gilbert, reminded all of us that until Trump releases his tax returns, we’ll never know the true extent of exactly how good the plan will be for him —despite what he says, it will be very, very good— and outlined how these giveaways to corporations and the 1% will be paid for with unconscionable cuts to needed services like Medicare, Medicaid, and public education.

Taylor Lincoln, Congress Watch research director, spoke about his just-released report showing that this tax debate has been yet another example of Trump and his administration being mired in the swamp he swore to drain, since more than half of the lobbyists in DC worked on tax issues this year. That’s more than 6,000 lobbyists, all too many of which are Gucci-attired corporate mouthpieces plying for more loopholes and giveaways.

Justin Mendoza, organizer for Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program spoke about how Big Pharma has already been draining the public’s pocketbooks to for life sustaining medicines, just to turn a profit and now they want to further enrich themselves by paying fewer taxes. He also highlighted research done by Rick Claypool, research director for the president’s office, showing that the five top pharmaceutical corporations stand to receive a $46.8 billion tax break from just the repatriation portion of the bill, which deals with what percentage corporations have to pay of the deferred taxes they owe on profits characterized as having been generated by foreign subsidiaries. Not surprisingly, these companies were able to negotiate a huge windfall, and instead of paying the 35 percent they owe, under the Senate-passed bill, would pay between 7.5 to 14.5 percent.

Eagan Kemp, healthcare policy advocate for Congress Watch, spoke to the fact that the tax bill is a vehicle for a sneaky repeal of a key component of the Affordable Care Act—the individual mandate. Without that in place, more than 13 million Americans will no longer have insurance, and premiums will increase for everyone else. In addition, the bill would put in a place a requirement to cut Medicare funding by $25 billion in just the first year. It’s estimated that the Medicare cuts would total more than $400 billion over 10 years. Health care is as human right, and it is heartless for our nation’s leaders to propose using seniors’ health care dollars to fund giveaways to corporations and the richest of the rich.

Amanda Werner, Arbitration Campaign Director for Americans for Financial Reform & Public Citizen joined us in their “Monopoly Man” cause-player costume to speak to the hard fight we’re up against given the massive campaign contributions that industry has poured into the tax fight in order to pave the way for permanent corporate giveaways.

Emily Peterson-Cassin, coordinator for the Bright Lines Project warned that the campaign finance problem may become much worse through the tax bill via possible repeal of the Johnson Amendment. This provision in the tax code dating back to 1954 prohibits all 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The repeal measure, which was included in the House bill but thankfully not the Senate version, would open a new avenue of secret spending in our elections, with educational charities and religious organizations transformed into the new Dark Money vehicles. Worse still, they would be tax-deductible Dark Money vehicles. When it comes to big money dominance of our elections, this is the worst and most dangerous development since Citizens United.

During our segment of the People’s Filibuster, we also channeled the work of our Energy division by highlighting what a travesty the provision of the Senate’s bill that allows drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would be if signed into law, ruining one of our last pristine wild places and exacerbating climate change by taking our nation further down the dangerous path of relying on dirty fossil fuels instead of promoting clean, renewable energy sources. The bill also impacts the work done by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch team. Given their strong focus on ensuring that American workers and consumers don’t get a bum deal in trade negotiations, it’s a travesty that the tax bill will create a gigantic incentive for multinational corporations to outsource jobs and investments since profits that are accounted as being made by foreign subsidiaries could be subject to absolutely no tax whatsoever. That will mean an uneven playing field for America’s small businesses.

And, since we’re the opposite of happy about the bill, we worked with Will Rice from Americans for Tax Fairness to create a parody of the Pharrell Williams song that we call “Dodging.” Led by Melinda St. Louis from our Global Trade Watch division, Peter Maybarduk from our Access to Medicines division, and David Arkush from our Energy division, we sang what we think is the catchiest song ever written about taxes. (Not that that’s saying a lot, but we hope you enjoy it.)

In addition to emceeing Public Citizen’s hour during the People’s Filibuster, I had the opportunity to speak during the “Wonking Hour” and the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition’s portions of the filibuster. And, my billionaire costume got another turn in a short comedy cameo appearance during the Americans for Tax Fairness’ Thursday section of the filibuster, joined by Monopoly Man.

Though in the end all but one Republican voted for the bill and it passed 51-49, the People’s Filibuster helped galvanize the ever growing opposition to this horrible tax plan. The Conference Committee has been chosen to iron out the few but significant differences between the bill, so there is still one last opportunity to stand up and speak out against stealing from hardworking American families’ pocketbooks in order to fund a whopping holiday gift for corporate donors.

Please take a minute to call 888-291-9824 to be connected to the capitol switchboard and tell your representative and senators: “I am calling to urge [REPRESENTATIVE/SENATOR NAME] to vote NO on the final tax bill. Not only will it cut taxes for big corporations and the wealthy while raising them for millions of middle-class families, it will also leave millions more Americans uninsured and will cause steep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, education and other vital public programs.”

We all need to filibuster this bill until we kill it!