Leahy: A caricature of what real tax reform should look like

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During Thanksgiving last week, families across the country came together to give thanks for the blessings of the past year. One group in particular — corporate CEOs — had a special reason to be thankful: the Republican tax bill we are considering today. Rather than engaging in a bipartisan process to develop and enact meaningful tax reform that will benefit working Americans and small businesses, Republicans in Congress have spent the last few weeks crafting tax cut legislation that will overwhelmingly favor large corporations and ultra-wealthy Americans. Just in time for the holiday season, this bill delivers everything on the Republican donor class's wish list while providing the vast majority of working Americans with little more than a lump of coal.

This tax bill would have harmful and far-reaching effects, in countless ways, for our economy, for the budget, for our healthcare system, for our environment, and for the pocketbooks of middle income Americans from coast to coast. Yet despite these enormous threats across the board, rarely, if ever, have I seen such a secretive and slapdash process, and such a shoddy result. Republican leaders purposely chose a partisan process, not a bipartisan process.

This bill has one clear goal — provide corporations with permanent tax cuts at any and all costs. Unfortunately, the costs of providing these unnecessary cuts are high and fall disproportionately on lower and middle income Americans, who will only see temporary cuts that will expire in 2025. The true purpose and slant of this bill are belied by the fact that huge tax cuts for corporations would be permanent, while the meager adjustments for hardworking Americans are only temporary. Critical deductions relied upon by many Vermonters, including the State and Local Tax Deduction, are reduced or eliminated. These changes are likely to result in higher taxes for many working families. To add insult to injury, even after targeting the middle class to pay for permanent corporate tax cuts, the bill will still end up adding more than $1.4 trillion to our deficit and debt over the next 10 years.

This is a bill that cheats our future for the sake of a tax-cut windfall for the one percent. It does absolutely wonderful things for the wealthiest taxpayers, like the President, his cronies and his family. But it does not advance the common good. It offers crumbs to hardworking Americans, while the wealthiest individuals and corporations reap the rewards of this bill, with the false promise of trickle-down benefits to everyone else. The wealthiest are doing just fine and big corporations already are pulling in record profits, which they're not investing but salting away. They don't need more tax cuts. More than 400 millionaires have urgently told Congress that they don't need more tax cuts.

Even more appallingly, to pay for these tax giveaways for corporations, Republicans intend to strip health insurance from 13 million Americans, a move that threatens to seriously destabilize the health insurance market. Americans with health insurance today will face higher premiums as a result of this bill becoming law. As the Congressional Budget Office found in its recent analysis, by 2027 the bill takes away billions of dollars in federal healthcare support for Americans making less than $75,000. This needlessly puts innocent lives at risk. To the extent that working Vermonters see any benefit from the tax cuts included in this bill, those gains will be more than wiped away by these changes to our healthcare system.

What's more, this Republican proposal will also cause irreparable harm to our environment by opening up oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — all to pay for tax breaks for corporations, including those in the oil and gas industry. Exposing this breathtaking area of the country to the ravages of oil and gas drilling would be an environmental tragedy. Even worse, the rationale for it may be built on a false premise. There is evidence to suggest that opening this area for development would not even provide the economic benefits being claimed. Turning ANWR into an oil field is yet another gift to corporate interests at the expense of the American people and at the cost of damage to their public lands.

These are just some of the devastating consequences this bill will have if it is enacted. And we know this isn't even the bill on which we will ultimately cast a vote. This bill has been written and rewritten so many times behind closed doors, and we have every reason to believe Republicans will conclude this arcane reconciliation process by offering a final amendment, unveiled at the last minute, without the benefit of thorough review and debate. For an issue this complex that touches every aspect of our economy, moving at a breakneck, partisan pace is a dangerous and reckless approach. How many Senators who support this legislation can look their constituents in the eye and honestly tell them they know every detail of this bill and how it will impact them and our country? Can the Senators who support this bill in good faith promise it won't raise their constituents' taxes, today, tomorrow, next year, or in a decade? Or that it won't set in motion slashing cuts to Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid?

Remember the promises the Republican majority made just months ago? They promised their bill would boost the economy and help middle class Americans, and that it wouldn't explode the debt and the deficits. The President himself promised that the bill wouldn't benefit him or other wealthy taxpayers. Now we know the truth. The independent Congressional Budget Office and countless economists have made clear that those promises have been utterly shredded. Further damage is done by this direct hit on the health insurance that is relied upon by millions of Americans, and by the elimination of the deductibility of state and local taxes. Blowing a hole in the budget will seed the ground for rising interest rates that will hit every family and drag down our economy, and Republican cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will follow.

Even these huge corporate tax cuts are not structured in a way that would truly encourage investments here at home and boost workers' wages. There's no bang, let alone a popgun pop, for shoveling out these more than one trillion bucks.

We need to go back to the drawing board and start this process over again. Let Republicans and Democrats work together on real tax reform that simplifies the tax code and provides real benefits to working Americans. This bill is not tax reform. This is a cartoonish caricature of what real tax reform should look like. It is dishonest to its core. It is cynical, and it can only breed more cynicism by the public. It is not only bad policy, it is horrible policy. And it is wrong.

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