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Saturday, December 02, 2017


Tom Sawyer on steroids

by Tom Sullivan

Sen. Jon Tester didn't cuss. But the Montana Democrat might have after receiving the 500-page GOP tax bill hours before vote-a-rama and final passage last night (with no debate) about 2 a.m. Friday afternoon, Claire McCaskill (D-MO) tweeted a list of Manager's Amendments she'd received from a lobbyist rather than from her Republican colleagues. "None of us have seen this list, but lobbyists have it."

Republicans took two and a quarter centuries of constitutional process and set it alight so they could tell constituents over the holidays they had passed something this year without knowing exactly what.

The point was to get the tax bill voted through before anyone had a chance to find out what was really in it. But I had contacts inside the Capitol scrawl some choice lines from Leviticus 25 into the margins (the Bible is another text that goes unread up there): "The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers," and "You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit." Well, if someone actually had added that, no senator would know the difference.

Amidst the uncertainties, the bill's passage will all but strangle the Obamacare program still in its crib. The Washington Post reports that's not all:
And the bill makes other changes that reach far beyond the tax code itself. It repeals the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act, a major change that was added in recent weeks as part of a broader GOP effort to dismantle the Obama-era law. The individual mandate creates penalties for many Americans who don’t have health insurance, but the repeal would leave 13 million more people uninsured. It authorizes oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. And by curtailing deductions for state and local taxes, it will put pressure on some state and local spending on education, transportation and public health programs.
On that, two words of advice for state governments: forced labor.

Axios has a bullet list of some of key items still to be worked out in committee:
  • The alternative minimum tax. At the last minute, the Senate bill kept the AMT on corporations. It also raised the exemption for the individual AMT, instead of repealing each. The House bill completely repeals both.
  • The SALT deduction. Both the House and the Senate limited the state and local tax deduction to a $10,000 deduction for property taxes. But some House members are likely to want more.
  • The pass-through rate. The Senate bill allows pass-through corporations (small businesses that file taxes on their owner's return) to deduct 23 percent of business income, while the House created a 25 percent rate for business income (and a 9 percent rate for lower-income individuals).
  • ACA individual mandate. The Senate repeals it. The House doesn't, although it has signaled that it'll be kept in the bill in conference.
  • Estate tax. The House doubles the size of the estate tax exemption, then repeals the tax after 2024. The Senate doubles the exemption until the tax sunsets beginning in 2026.
  • Individual rates. The House has 4 rates and keeps the current top rate of 39.6 percent. The Senate has 7 rates and a top rate of 38.5 percent. There are also differences in the child tax credit value and the standard deduction, and everything on the individual side in the Senate sunsets beginning in 2026.
  • Mortgage interest deduction. The House lowers the cap to $500,000 while the Senate keeps it at $1 million.
Both chambers include a reduction of the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, so that's a lock. After CEOs and board members stop guffawing over politicians' promises cutting corporate taxes will lead to more hiring and higher salaries for workers, and after they figure out how they'll divide the spoils among stock buybacks, dividends, and executive bonuses, they'll set their tax attorneys to work figuring out how they can get their firms' tax burden down to zero. Or lower. Metastasized capitalism won’t be satisfied until it kills its host, until We the People are paying the Owner class for making a profit. It's already happening.

Kurt Eichenwald may be being overly dramatic, but not without cause. Dahlia Lithwick's observations from prior to last night's vote are the most sobering thing I've read. She worries in the "ongoing national nightmare of creeping authoritarianism" our faith in the rule of law may be so much magical thinking, or else not magical enough to save us from "the forces of chaos and nihilism":

I’ve been thinking that America is operating along two parallel legal tracks. On one track is the chug-chug of law and order, as embodied in the Mueller investigation. On the other is the daily mayhem and denialism and circus-performing of the present White House. I tend to worry that with every passing day, the circus is training us to ignore, discredit, devalue, or disbelieve what’s happening on the other track. By the time the Mueller train gets to its final station, the norms that would ordinarily lead to impeachment proceedings might be tiny piles of yellow legal pad–shaped cinders. And then it really would be time to take to the streets.

For the past year I’ve been trying to understand what exactly the Trump era has been training us to become. Passive, certainly. Overwhelmed and anxious and unable to focus, without a doubt. But I also wonder whether we’re being trained to abandon our steadfast belief that the rule of law will save us, or if we’re being taught to cling to the illusory protections of the law as it becomes just another on a long list of anachronisms.
I wish I could be more optimistic this morning. There is only resolve. Or as Tony Stark said, "There's the next mission, and nothing else." Only Stark has more resources to work with than the rest of us.

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