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Wednesday, 22 November 2017 15:16

Tax bill details just who’s pulling the strings

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In a book on the nature of state legislatures, the journalist Frank Trippett coined the term “true constituency” to explain why so many politicians act as badly as they do.

He wasn’t referring to the voters, who are only the nominal constituents, but to the lawmakers’ own professions and industries, those and other interests that lobby them, and the people who finance their campaigns.

From his post in Florida’s capitol, Trippett remarked on the lavish parties that annually welcomed legislators to Tallahassee and the cascade of floral tributes that made an opening-day session a bad place for people with allergies.

The purposes, unstated but unmistakable, were to impress on the legislators that they were simply guests in the seat of power — obligated far more to their hosts rather than to the citizens who had voted for or against them.

Trippett’s book, The States: United They Fell, was published in 1967 but remains as valid an explanation of American politics as Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1835 classic Democracy in America.

The true constituency explains Congress as well as the usual suspects in the typical state capitals.

A current example is Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who made his case for the tax bill — any tax bill, never mind what it says — in widely quoted remarks earlier this month.

“My donors,” he said, “are basically saying ‘get it done or don’t ever call me again.’”

Collins didn’t comment on what his nominal constituents — the voters — have been telling him.

There are only two classes of guaranteed winners under either the House-passed bill or the pending Senate version: the wealthiest of all Americans, and large corporations. Older people without children, especially those with larger medical bills, are guaranteed losers.

Teachers would lose their very modest tax deduction for the classroom supplies they need to buy. Graduate students would be taxed on the value of the free tuition they get in place of a decent salary for teaching the undergraduates who are beneath the dignity of tenured faculty. But the bill bears a special gift for the owners of private aircraft. Nothing could better expose the Republican Party’s true constituency.

Did I mention that rides on corporate jets are a cherished perk of congressional service? They pay, of course, but only what a commercial flight would cost. The convenience, the luxury, the bypassing of TSA? Priceless.

And of course’s there’s the repeal (or modification, it’s not clear which) of the estate tax, the one that only very rich people pay, which would save the heirs of the industrialists David and Charles Koch an estimated $38.8 billion.

Meanwhile, the Senate Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that under the Senate bill Americans earning $30,000 a year or less would pay higher taxes starting in 2021. That’s largely because  the bill demolishes Obamacare by repealing the individual insurance mandate. This would tempt many poorer folk to skip buying it and forego the tax subsidies they get now.

The truest of the true constituencies, the corporations, get permanent tax cuts in the Senate bill. But to keep it under the magic threshold for passing it without Democratic votes — with only 51 votes out of 100 — the Senate bill sunsets individual tax cuts at the end of 2025. In that event, every American earning $75,000 a year or less would face hefty tax increases, the committee said.

A recent Quinnipiac poll found 2 to 1 public disapproval of the so-called “reform.”

“In effect, the GOP is giving middle-class Americans a giant middle finger,” writes Paul Krugman, the New York Times economist. “What’s going on?”

One explanation, he suggests. is that in the Age of Trump the party’s future is so dismal that “it’s all about grabbing as much for their big donors while they still can. Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose; in the GOP’s case, that means the freedom to be the party of, by, and for oligarchs they always wanted to be.”

If the voters catch on, Krugman observes, the ex-lawmaker can find refuge as a K Street lobbyist, a Fox News “expert” or a think tank fixture.  He calls it “wingnut welfare.”

The true constituents win. The legal constituents lose.

Another explanation, of course, is the self-perceived immunity of people like Rep. Mark Meadows, R-Asheville, who seems to figure his grotesquely gerrymandered district insulates him from even the wrath of God, let alone from the voters. We’ll see.

Of North Carolina’s 10 GOP House members, Walter Jones was the only one to vote against the House bill. Thank him, and remember the others.

Another way the Republicans are trying to pay for their corporate servitude is to end or limit the ability of citizens to deduct their state and local taxes, a tactic cleverly aimed at high-tax states like New York that tend to vote Democratic. All of New York’s House delegation except for two of the nine Republicans voted against the bill. Collins was one of the two.

I wanted to ask him, through the e-mail tab on his House web page, about the donor’s quote. But the link rejects any zip code that’s not in his district. Contact your own congressman, it says.

I’ll bet that when he gets a call from a lobbyist for Big Pharma or Charter Communications, to name two of his major funding sources, it doesn’t matter whether it’s from his district. No courtesy is too good for the true constituency.

(Martin Dyckman is a retired journalist living in Western North Carolina. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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