REPUB­LI­CAN CLASS WAR­FARE: THE NEXT GEN­ER­A­TION

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - OPINION -

The other day, Mitch McCon­nell, the Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader, ad­mit­ted to The New York Times that he “mis­spoke” when he de­clared that his party’s tax plan wouldn’t raise taxes on any mid­dle-class fam­i­lies. But he mis­spoke when he said “mis­spoke”: The proper term is “lied.”

McCon­nell was forced into his sort-of-kind-of ad­mis­sion by a new re­port from the Joint Com­mit­tee on Tax­a­tion, Congress’s own score­keeper, which found mil­lions of mid­dle-class fam­i­lies would see higher taxes un­der the Se­nate Repub­li­can pro­posal. But this wasn’t some kind of nar­row, tech­ni­cal mis­take on his part.

Both the Se­nate pro­posal and the sim­i­lar pro­posal from House Repub­li­cans of­fer huge tax cuts to cor­po­ra­tions and the wealthy, then try to limit the im­pacts of these tax cuts on the bud­get deficit by claw­ing back tax cred­its and ex­emp­tions that mainly ben­e­fit the mid­dle class. Of course many in the mid­dle class would see their taxes go up.

But fo­cus­ing on how many would face tax in­creases gets at only a small part of what’s go­ing on here.

Top-down class war­fare, cou­pled with false claims to be cut­ting taxes on the mid­dle class, has been stan­dard GOP op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure for a long time. In fact, the cur­rent tax de­bate in­spires an over­whelm­ing sense of déjà vu, be­cause many of the tricks Repub­li­cans are us­ing come right out of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s play­book in 2001 and 2003.

Tax breaks that phase in or out to make the 10-year bud­get im­pact look smaller? Check. Mis­lead­ing ex­am­ples and cal­cu­la­tions to give the false im­pres­sion of a tax cut for the mid­dle class? Check. Pre­tend­ing that cuts come free, that they won’t even­tu­ally have to be off­set by cuts to pop­u­lar pro­grams? Check, again.

But there are also some new as­pects to this lat­est money grab. This time around, much more clearly than be­fore, the goal seems to be to fa­vor wealth, es­pe­cially in­her­ited wealth, over work. And buried in the leg­is­la­tion are mul­ti­ple mea­sures that would make it much harder for the chil­dren of the mid­dle and work­ing classes to work their way up.

So, about the wealthy: The prime ex­am­ple is the way GOP plans would elim­i­nate or sharply re­duce taxes on in­her­ited wealth, which cur­rently ap­ply only to a tiny num­ber of huge es­tates. Yes, Repub­li­cans are still pre­tend­ing this is about help­ing small fam­ily busi­nesses and fam­ily farms, but at this point that’s a sick joke: The best es­ti­mates sug­gest only around 80 — eight-zero — of such busi­nesses and farms pay any es­tate tax each year. This is about mak­ing wealthy heirs even wealth­ier.

Now let me shift fo­cus in­stead to what Repub­li­cans are try­ing to do to or­di­nary fam­i­lies.

We’re still wait­ing for de­tailed anal­y­sis of the Se­nate bill, but the House bill doesn’t just raise taxes on many mid­dle-class fam­i­lies: It se­lec­tively raises taxes on fam­i­lies with chil­dren. In fact, half — half! — of fam­i­lies with chil­dren will see a tax hike once the bill is fully phased in.

Sup­pose a child from a work­ing-class fam­ily de­cides, de­spite lim­ited fi­nan­cial re­sources, to at­tend col­lege, prob­a­bly tak­ing out a loan to help pay tu­ition. Well, guess what: Un­der the House bill, that in­ter­est would no longer be de­ductible, sub­stan­tially rais­ing the cost of col­lege.

What if you’re work­ing your way through school and your em­ployer con­trib­utes to­ward your ed­u­ca­tion ex­penses? The House bill would make that con­tri­bu­tion tax­able in­come.

What if your par­ent is a univer­sity em­ployee, and you get re­duced tu­ition as a re­sult? That tu­ition break be­comes tax­able in­come. So would tu­ition breaks for grad­u­ate stu­dents who work as teach­ing or re­search as­sis­tants.

This isn’t just or­di­nary class war­fare; it’s class war­fare aimed at per­pet­u­at­ing in­equal­ity into the next gen­er­a­tion. Taken to­gether, the ele­ments of both the House and the Se­nate bills amount to a more or less sys­tem­atic at­tempt to lav­ish ben­e­fits on the chil­dren of the ul­tra­wealthy while mak­ing it harder for less for­tu­nate young peo­ple to achieve up­ward so­cial mo­bil­ity.

Or to put it dif­fer­ently, the tax leg­is­la­tion Repub­li­cans are try­ing to ram through Congress with in­de­cent haste, with­out hear­ings or time for any kind of se­ri­ous study, looks an aw­ful lot like an at­tempt not sim­ply to re­in­force plu­toc­racy, but to en­trench a hered­i­tary plu­toc­racy.

Paul Krug­man

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