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The Tax Scam: Naming the Culprits

It took quite a conspiracy of lies and mendacity to drive tax cuts for the superrich and giant corporations through both houses of Congress.

The tax scam is no done deal – House and Senate negotiators must still agree on a single package, and that package must win approval in both houses. Given the narrowness of the margins for approval in both the Senate and House, and the significant differences between the bills each passed, the entire effort may still collapse – especially if the public grasps what’s at stake and mobilizes.

But the uncertainty over the ultimate fate of the tax cut is no reason to delay identifying the culprits. Each and every person who had a hand in crafting and passing these proposals for monstrous transfers of wealth to the superrich must be held accountable.

Some of the conspirators merit special attention:

Gary Cohn. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn engaged in a very public handwringing about whether to remain in the Trump administration in the wake of the Charlottesville outrage, but decided the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to make history by cutting taxes for the rich was too great to pass by. He continued to insist that corporate tax cuts would unleash new corporate investment – only to be greeted by a roomful of corporate executives who wouldn’t back up his story even by raising their hands in answer to a question about who would undertake new investment. Cohn racked up quite a record of interesting statements: “The wealthy are not getting a tax cut” (September 28). “I’m really not upset” that the wealthy are getting a tax cut (November 9). “The most excited group out there are big CEOs about our tax plan” (November 9).

Marco Rubio. Unlike others on this list, Rubio offered a dose of honesty about the tax cut. But his plus points for truthfulness are offset by the immorality of his admission: These gigantic tax cuts are a set-up for immediate demands to slash Social Security and Medicare. “The driver of our debt is Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries,” he stated. Actually, don’t give Rubio too many points for honesty. In those same remarks, he also insisted that the tax cuts would generate economic growth.

Donald Trump. The Liar-in-Chief says, “This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing. Believe me. Believe. This is not good for me.” Uh, not true. Provisions on the estate tax, pass-through corporations and the alternative minimum tax would directly benefit Trump and his family, potentially saving them a billion dollars or more. The House bill would eliminate the alternative minimum tax – under which Trump paid $31 million in 2005. Eliminating the estate tax would conservatively save his children more than half a billion, and potentially much more if Trump actually is worth $4 billion. The provision on pass through corporations – Trump’s empire includes about 500 of them – would enable him to slice his tax rate by a third or more.

Jeff Flake. A self-styled deficit hawk, he traded his vote for an altered provision on business expensing, which could change or be offset by other corporate tax cuts, and a promise to be part of the negotiations over DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Not for a commitment on DACA, but a “seat at the table.” That may be one of the lamest concessions ever obtained in a negotiation. Dear Senator Flake, we admire some of your recent criticisms of Donald Trump, but – and this is probably the first and last time we suggest looking to Donald Trump for advice – he wrote this book called “The Art of the Deal” that maybe you should check out. One of his lessons was: “Use your leverage.”

Paul Ryan. The self-styled tax policy wonk continues to insist that the tax cuts will pay for themselves. He insists that they will promote economic growth to such an extent that the government’s overall tax revenue will remain consistent. No serious economist believes this. Nor does anyone with a dose of common or historical sense, for the very same promises have accompanied previous tax breaks for the rich, and they have never borne out.

Steven Mnuchin. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin helped lead the chorus around the lie that the tax cut would pay for itself. Uniquely, he promised that the Treasury Department was conducting an analysis to prove the point. The analysis never appeared, raising two troubling scenarios, as Senator Elizabeth Warren put it: “Either the Treasury Department has used extensive taxpayer funds to conduct economic analyses that it refuses to release because those analyses would contradict the Treasury Secretary’s claims, or Secretary Mnuchin has grossly misled the public about the extent of the Treasury Department’s analysis.” Mnuchin’s Treasury Department had earlier removed from its website a 2012 study that refuted Mnuchin’s claim that corporations would pass on most of the savings from tax cuts to their workers.

There are many other names that deserve special disdain.

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rammed the tax cut through the Senate with utter disregard for openness and normal process. As minority leader, he savaged Democrats for procedural maneuvers that look straight out of Schoolhouse Rock in comparison.

Senator Susan Collins soothed her conscience in supporting the bill by winning modest health care measures that won’t begin to offset the damage the bill does to the nation’s health care system, leaving aside the rest of the devastation it will wreak.

Senator John McCain failed to stand behind his call for “honor” and “a return to regular order” and undermined his contribution to the country in opposing repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

There have been few votes more disgraceful than the recent House and Senate passage of massive tax cuts for corporations and the superrich.

There are only days or weeks to go before both houses will vote on a reconciled bill. And there’s only one way to stop the legislation from becoming law: massive public mobilization that makes very clear the culprits will be held to account.