Well, that was quick.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had barely finished making his fabulist prediction that the GOP tax overhaul would add nothing to the deficit when his fellow Republicans started saying that the deficit will force them to curb Medicare and other safety-net programs on which almost all Americans depend.
McConnell insists the $1.5 trillion in tax cuts will “jump start” so much economic activity that the effect on federal debt will be a wash. “I’m totally confident this is a revenue neutral bill. Actually a revenue producer,” said McConnell. Congress’ own analysts disagree with his fanciful theory. So does history.
But, just for argument’s sake, let’s say McConnell is right and the current 3 percent growth surges to 4 percent. It would barely matter to the places and people who have been bypassed by the longest-ever postwar recovery. They include a lot of Kentuckians who helped put Donald Trump in the White House but are being left behind, despite 86 consecutive months of job growth.
The tax bill’s $47 billion windfall for Apple isn’t going to help average Kentuckians, while the pittance they gain in tax cuts will be quickly spent on necessities.
What would help McConnell’s constituents is higher wages. But Republicans have blocked a minimum wage increase and weakened the labor unions that negotiate improved compensation. Education, training and retraining would help. Kentucky employers repeatedly say they have jobs but can’t find workers with the skills to do them. Many Kentuckians also lack means to travel or relocate to where there are jobs. Their boats won’t be lifted by the tide of tax breaks soon to wash over commercial real estate, though Trump’s family will be further enriched.
McConnell’s constituents die from cancer and drug overdoses at a higher rate than residents of almost every other state, while Republicans try to dismantle the reforms that gave more than 500,000 Kentuckians access to doctors, medicine and addiction treatment. The tax bill’s increases in the deficit will automatically trigger cuts to Medicare and public health services. The Senate is choosing to save $300 billion by insuring 13 million fewer people to help stay within its self-imposed debt limit.
McConnell, who vowed to return the Senate to “regular order,” disputes that the tax bill was rushed through without vetting. Eighteen months of bipartisan debate honed the last major tax reform in 1986. Under McConnell, the Senate voted on handwritten changes in their 479-page bill in the wee hours of the morning without having read it. These last-minute changes unintentionally wiped out a chunk of the savings for corporations that were the bill’s main point, prompting GOP ally Robert Murray to howl that the Senate’s alternative minimum tax would deprive his and other coal companies of “enough cash flow to exist.”
Rest assured the corporate tax breaks will be restored as a House-Senate conference committee irons out differences in the bills, both of which deepen economic inequality. Then, Republicans will re-discover the deficit and use it as an excuse to unwind the social contract that protects the young, old, sick and impoverished. That will hurt Kentucky and the rest of the country, no matter how pretty the economic fantasy our senior senator spins.