Nothing happens in a vacuum. The godless third-world performance of Trump and the vast majority of his congressional cronies didn’t burst upon the world spontaneously. I’m speaking, of course, about the shameless combo political rally/reality show that passed as a State of the Union address earlier this week. Absurd enough that the raucous right felt compelled to leap to their feet every time their unhinged leader offered up a little red meat (the scene was positively Pavlovian); but when they chanted, “Four more years, four more years,” you could be forgiven if you thought you were watching a scene in a banana republic chamber full of fear.
Then, a couple of days later we had the annual Prayer Breakfast, at which Trump not only revealed his complete disdain for the event, but also his disrespect for believers. What was more astounding? What Trump said? (“ I don’t like people … who say ‘I pray for you’ when you know that is not so”). Or the laughter of the “religious leaders” in attendance as he denigrated those who pray?
Later that day came the “speech” in the East Room of the White House. The East Room: site of bill signings, major announcements, concerts, dances, award ceremonies, and—of course—Abigail Adam’s clotheslines, replete with the family laundry. The room was packed with cabinet members (Bill Barr, ever the toady, sat front row center), Republican congress members, Fox News hosts, and Trump family members, all apparently rapt by Trump’s recital of grievances and stabs at those he dislikes.
It feels like the beginning of the end. Over the years, thanks in part to Supreme Court rulings that have unleashed torrents of money that subvert our democratic process, we’ve come to resemble a third-world country: wealth concentrated in a tiny group at the top, free press denigrated, ownership of the media in the hands of a few, low-wage workers struggling to survive, education starved for funds. The list goes on.
When I’m feeling optimistic, I let myself believe this will lead (sooner, rather than later, I hope) to a realization and a consensus that we must rethink what we’ve become and rebuild a system that works for everyone, not just those at the top. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, this isn’t something that can be accomplished simply by a change of parties in control. That’s a start. But there has been failure on the part of both political parties and at all levels of government—national, state, and local—that have brought us to this pass.
Several years ago, as we launched the war on Iraq, a friend said to me, “I just feel like we need to tear this whole thing down and start over.” We didn’t, of course, and now it’s even worse. Money flows up. Problems flow down. Solutions?
While we can’t very well “tear this whole thing down,” we can, if our legislators put aside their own self-serving interest and if we all can muster up the bipartisan will, develop sensible taxation, provide the quality education our kids deserve, institute responsible action to avert climate change and restore the environment, develop and put in place a comprehensive medical care system for all, develop 21st century infrastructure in the transportation and cyber arenas, institute a rational, fact-based foreign policy that protects us and supports others in need. If we can muster up the bipartisan will, we could even abolish the distinctly anti-democratic (small “d”) electoral college, institute voting laws that guarantee one person-one vote and establish term limits so that the legislators, who often benefit financially from many of the bills they pass, are restricted in the amount of time they can spend at the public trough.
I know that all sounds “pie in the sky.” But isn’t it exactly what we should expect our government to do? Isn’t that their job? Isn’t that what our taxes should buy?
In case we had any doubts, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has demonstrated once again that the Republicans really are the party of unbridled greed and pure hypocrisy. He did this when he fired Rev. Patrick Conroy, a Jesuit priest who has served seven years as chaplain of the House of Representatives after complaining to the priest that some of his prayers in the House were too political. And thus, Ryan confirmed that justice and mercy has no place in the politicos’ hallowed halls.
The speaker found particularly offensive the prayer Conroy offered during the tax cut debate when he prayed that legislators would “guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”
Shortly thereafter, Conroy says, Ryan approached him to say, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”
At various times since, however, Conroy has offered prayers that legislators would act with decency and compassion for their fellow human beings. The ideas espoused are classic New Testament fare, notions like …
Having had enough of all that, Ryan demanded Conroy’s resignation.
“Only in this perverted time could a priest lose his job after committing the sin of crying out for justice for the poor,” writes Dana Milbank, columnist for The Washington Post. “But then, look around: Everywhere are the signs of a rising kleptocracy. The $1.5 billion tax cut did make winners of corporations and the wealthy.”
And Paul Ryan? His dismissal of the chaplain shows, as a prosecutor would say, consciousness of guilt.
Do You Budget the Way the Government Does? _______________________________________________________________
Suppose you and your spouse both work. Suppose you have a rich uncle who lives off the fat of the land. Suppose this uncle decides he’d like to have more money, but doesn’t want to work for it. Suppose he comes to you, a hard-working fully employed 40-something with three kids and a good credit rating, and says, “Hey, I need $100,000. I know you don’t have that much stashed away, but you have a line of credit at your bank. How about you borrow it from the bank and loan it to me?”
Does that make sense to you? …
I thought not. What’s the collateral? What would he do with the money? How would he pay it back? When? All those and more are questions you’d want to ask.
But this is what your Congress wants to do with the much-vaunted “tax cuts.” They want to increase the national debt (i.e., borrow money) to finance tax cuts, an inordinate amount of which will go to the wealthy who need it least. While the politicos like to claim that “everyone’s” taxes will go down, if you’re paying close attention, you know that’s just not true. And, of course, when our government borrows money, all of us, rich, poor and in between, are on the hook for it.
The tax plan will continue to evolve as the two houses of Congress hash out their differences. It’s up to us to pay attention to the bill that’s finally approved and to know how our legislators vote, yea or nay. The entire House of Representatives will stand for election next year. Any of them who vote to increase our already whopping national debt in order to finance tax cuts for the wealthy donor class should be sent home.
I’ll try to post summary updates from time to time in the Issues section. Go to Issues/Budget and Taxes/Updates 2017. Meanwhile, see who your legislators are and track their votes here.
Mystery solved! Duh! Mea culpa! In my last blog on taxes, I asked, “Why are the Republicans so eager to give a tax break to those who are just fine without it while scaling back on health-care help to those in need? As a party, are they truly heartless?”
Warren Buffett had answered that question before I got around to asking it. In an interview on PBS News Hour, he said, “They (members of Congress) have given themselves a big, big tax cut, if they—if they voted for this.”
He pointed out that members of Congress earn, at a minimum, $174,000 per year. The taxes that would be repealed under the proposed health care bill are those levied on incomes of more than $200,000 for an individual or $250,000 for a couple. Buffett surmises that with a congressional income of at least $174,000 per year, most legislators exceed the $200-250,000 threshold with income from other activities.
And as a side note, Buffett pointed out that if the bill that passed the House recently had been in effect for 2016, he would have saved approximately $680,000—more than 17% of his tax bill. “You could entitle this, you know, Relief for the Rich Act or something, because it—I have got friends where it would have saved them as much as—it gets into the $10-million-and-up figure.”
(Source: Business Insider, 6/28/17)
Governors John Hickenlooper (D) of Colorado and John Kasich (R) of Ohio have been appearing together to talk about the proposed Senate health care bill and how it would impact the people of their states. It's been refreshing to hear two leaders--one from each side of the divide--with a deep understanding of the needs of their states speak to this issue with a focus on people, not politics.
And finally, one of them answered a question I've had for quite some time: "Do the people at the top of the income ladder really need the tax break Republicans are so bent on giving them by gutting other people's health care plans?"
The answer? This, from Gov. Hickenlooper on MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson today: "They (the wealthy) don't even want it" or words to that effect. While he didn't elaborate, I've long believed that a tax break like the one the GOP wants to give them by cutting health care costs wouldn't much affect the lifestyles of those rich and famous.
All of which begs the question: Why are the Republicans so eager to give a tax break to those who are just fine without it while scaling back on health-care help to those in need? As a party, are they truly heartless?
Thoughts for Our Time
“Conservatism discards Prescription, shrinks from Principle, disavows Progress; having rejected all respect for antiquity, it offers no redress for the present, and makes no preparation for the future.”