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Davis Merritt: GOP leadership recycles tired tax ideas

Davis Merritt
Davis Merritt File photo

Apparently unable to come up with any new ideas on any subject, the Republican congressional leadership keeps recycling bad old ones and accomplishing nothing.

For seven years, they promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and when they gained control of everything still could not get it done, even under special procedural rules that skipped such niceties as public hearings, open debate and amendments by members.

Their several replacement bills relied on the same stale and disreputable nostrums from the libertarian playbook: no individual mandate, not covering pre-existing conditions, and, finally and most desperately, punting the problem to the states, allowing them to use block grants to construct their own rules.

The persistent notion about the wonders of “experiments in fifty laboratories of freedom” is often the last resort of federal government haters in Congress who never point out that the laboratory rats in such experiments are actual human beings. (Think Kansas, 2012-17.)

With the shadow of the 2018 mid-term election hanging over them and driving the secretive process, the leadership was determined to cobble together in a few months a restructuring of one-sixth of the American economy, and if a few million people lost their health coverage, too bad.

Both the process and the heartlessness of the proposed changes wound up costing the leadership the game when at least 51 senators couldn’t stomach the deceptions.

Now, “tax reform” is front and center, with the leadership even more panicked about 2018 and the prospect of losing to either alt-right primary challengers or Democrats.

Yet the leadership’s flawed playbook for fulfilling another long-term promise is unchanged. The Senate budget committee’s 2018 budget resolution announced Friday lays the groundwork for a repeat of the sorry legislative process used in the failed ACA repeal. It shields the new tax bill from a Democratic filibuster, which forecloses any semblance of bipartisanship; it will be the GOP acting alone and in great haste to accomplish by late fall the rewriting of the tax code. The major tax code reforms of 1981 and 1986 took four and two years to accomplish.

And the changes the leadership proposes are once again a mélange of recycled conservative myths and libertarian dreams:

▪ That large tax cuts for corporations and billionaires will inevitably result in economic expansion and job creation: the old trickle down that has never worked for any extended period.

▪ That lowering the 35 percent corporate tax rate, which conservatives claim is “the highest in any developed country,” will cause major companies to bring back into the country billions of dollars sheltered overseas and use them to grow the economy. Two inconvenient facts: no major corporations actually pay that rate, and many pay no income taxes at all; a 2004 “tax holiday” did lure hundreds of millions back onshore, but virtually all of it was used for stock buy-backs and dividends to shareholders, not expansion and job formation.

▪ That temporarily adding $1.5 trillion to the national debt through tax revenue losses won’t actually hurt anything because vigorous business expansion will offset it.

▪ That closing tax loopholes will have a long-term effect. This ignores the reality that those loopholes got into the tax code in the first place because lobbyists bought them from members of Congress and, over time, will quietly buy them back.

With no new ideas and a rotten process, getting 50 votes will be just as difficult this time.

Compromise, anyone?

Now, there’s an idea.

Davis Merritt, Wichita journalist and author, may be reached at dmerritt9@cox.net.