Early Saturday morning, every Republican in the U.S. Senate — save one — endorsed a budget-busting tax cut that will do irreparable harm to the economy over the next decade.
Their work isn’t done. A committee must hammer out differences between the House and Senate legislation, but that task now seems easy. Expect a tax bill to be signed before Christmas.
As frustrating as that reality is, the worst may be yet to come. Cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are likely to be next on the agenda.
That seems to be the clear message from congressional leadership. The tax cuts aren’t even law yet, and Republicans are already taking dead aim at safety nets for the elderly and the poor.
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“The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said recently.
Actually, the driver of our debt is reckless and unnecessary tax reductions for the very richest Americans. The Senate bill — endorsed by Sens. Roy Blunt, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran —illustrates that point explicitly by permanently slashing income taxes for corporations and their shareholders.
Regular wage earners, on the other hand, get only temporary cuts in the Senate bill.
This outcome is deeply regrettable yet utterly predictable. The nation’s donor class has worked tirelessly over the decades to remove progressivity from the federal tax code, pushing more of the tax burden onto the middle class. They’re winning.
Which is why Social Security and Medicare, two quintessential middle-class safety net programs, are next. Wealthy Americans have fought against both since they became law. Their allies now hold most of the seats in Congress.
Americans who depend on both programs must work furiously during the coming months to protect them. They’ll have to reject claims Republicans want to “save” Social Security for future generations by cutting benefits or raising the retirement age.
Perhaps local Reps. Kevin Yoder, Sam Graves and Lynn Jenkins can hold President Donald Trump to his promise that neither program would be touched.
Mostly, though, Americans must reject the notion that the annual federal budget deficit and the growing national debt are matters of any real concern to their elected representatives.
In that sense, the tax cut votes are illuminating. For years, Republicans have claimed concern about government red ink, insisting on sequesters, government shutdowns, across-the-board spending cuts and the like in order to balance the books.
We may see more of this in the days ahead, as Washington approaches another shutdown crisis.
Americans shouldn’t buy the snake oil. By enacting their own trillion-dollar stimulus plan, the party has demonstrated utter contempt for a balanced federal budget or a reduction in the nation’s debt.
Any attempt to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to solve an imagined “debt crisis” should be met with the scorn it deserves.
Tax cutters in Congress won’t only be stealing from the next generation. They’ll be lying to it, too.