Only postmortem will reveal viruses hiding in Republican tax bill

The tax bill coming out of Washington reminds me of the degenerative disease NFL football players get from repeated blows to the head. We won’t know the truth about it until it’s too late.

Symptoms of the tax legislation and chronic traumatic encephalopathy include impulsive behavior, short-term memory loss, depression, anger and emotional instability. The kicker for CTE is that the seriously debilitating disease can only be diagnosed after death: for “tax reform” the unexpected and unpleasant repercussions remain a mystery until Tax Day, set for April 17, 2018, or beyond when all the various machinations negotiated behind closed doors in the wee hours of the night play out.

Will the rise of the plutocracy in America establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity? Or will the divide between the haves and the have-nots grow wider and create more entrenched divisions among Americans and destabilize the longest running democracy on the planet? Scores of Republicans and Democrats risk suffering greatly under proposals to slash the social safety net in the name of capitalism and to embolden already powerful corporations that rule the world.

But there’s more to the proposed legislation under consideration by the Senate as of this writing than tax cuts for corporations. The bill is stuffed with policy about hot-button social and political issues that’s baked in to get so-called “conservative” members on board a bill that will increase the swollen national debt of $20 trillion by another trillion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’ own nonpartisan tax analyst.

For the abortion-obsessed, there is legal recognition of an “unborn child” for whom it will become legal to make tax-free contributions for college in popular Section 529 accounts.

“Nothing shall prevent an unborn child from being treated as a designated beneficiary or an individual under this section,” the draft bill says. “The term ‘unborn child’ means a “child in utero,” defined as “a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”

Will “parents” of Zygote Homo Sapien qualify for the proposed increase of the child tax credit? Will the IRS require a urine sample or pregnancy test with the return? Who knows? President Trump’s push to fill the benches of federal courts with religious conservatives is just in time to answer these questions.

Another feature of the proposed tax law that’s more clever than ideological makes financial settlements of sexual harassment claims deductible only if there is no nondisclosure agreement. Secret deals, in other words, are taxed. How about an amendment financing a study of whether a change to the tax code encouraging transparency about sexual harassment claims alters corporate conduct? Is there room for a groper penalty?

These are just two examples among many of the bill’s foray into the culture wars – and are easy to understand – as are most of the obvious giveaways to breweries, tech startups, growers of citrus and victims of the Mississippi Delta floods. Serve in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt? You get a tax cut. Commute to work on a bike? No tax cut. Easy. But the bulk of the legislation – about 400 pages – is technical corporate mumbo jumbo only accountants, tax lawyers and lobbyists understand at the moment. For the rest of us the brutal awakening is yet to come.

It’s true that under the proposal, the standard deduction doubles, so the first $24,000 of income goes tax free for lower- and middle-income families for the short term. Whoopie. The rest of the story may be written but unknown. It takes only 14 lines of the 515 page bill to repeal the individual mandate under Obamacare – a move expected to impact the economy by billions of dollars and deprive roughly 13 million people of health insurance. What the rest of the document does is left to spin and the imagination.

American people are getting hammered with claims of the bill’s greatness by Trump on Twitter and congressional Republicans in the news while being pelted with predictions of imminent doom by everyone else. Meanwhile the lobbyists for the corporations and moneyed interests are busy working at breakneck speed to cram this midterm election showboat full of goodies for all the highly resourced organizations that stand to gain the most from the bill’s passage. It’s daunting to process the effects of the 500-plus pages of legislation as drafted and not vetted by the committee process, and impossible to track the drama of vote-a-rama.

“Concussed” is one of the most foul words in the English language and an apt analogy to the eager-beaver Republicans supporting the tax bill professing to know all its full and fabulous implications. Republican lawmakers have been knocking their heads against the wall in a broken Congress and it shows.


Published in the Portland Press Herald 12/3/17