Robbed of our Health

RoseAnn Demoro, Executive DIrector, National Nurses United

How the GOP tax bill not only jeopardizes working-class pocketbooks, but also our lives

Nothing better symbolizes the fracturing of American democracy than the federal tax overhaul bill, an early holiday gift to the big corporations and those who need it the least, passed despite overwhelming public opposition.

Deceptively marketed as a “middle class tax cut,” the bill will produce real harm for the health security in particular of tens of millions while lavishing favors on corporate executives and those who share a tax bracket with the current president.

Here’s a couple of examples: Families earning less than $25,000 a year will receive an average tax cut of $60, while those earning more than $733,000 will see an average cut of $51,000. Overall 83 percent of the tax “gain” goes to the top 1 percent. As to corporations, the bill exempts offshore profits from U.S. taxation, giving 15 of the largest, most profitable corporations a $236 billion tax cut.  In addition to a massive, permanent cut in the corporate tax rate, corporations were handed a nearly 20 percent tax cut to repatriate trillions of dollars stashed in offshore tax havens. The American Prospect terms the bill a “looting of the national commons.”

Future textbooks on “how a bill becomes law” or “the real inconvenient truth” could start here.

A staggering 6,000 lobbyists, mostly for big corporations and trade associations, worked on, and largely wrote the bill, 80 percent of whose benefits go to their members and clients. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone had 100 lobbyists working on the bill, nearly two lobbyists for every Republican Senator.

Through a sweeping cut in the corporate tax rate, additional favors for the fossil fuel industry, decimation of the estate tax and other huge new breaks for the wealthiest 1 percent, the bill continues what has become a tsunami of wealth transfer from the vast majority of Americans to the yacht-owning class.

To pay for the added $1 trillion debt in handouts to Wall Street and the super rich, Congress members who briefly threw aside their career-long obsession with deficit spending will surely bring back the knives to programs that help people who are not among the exclusive club of corporate donors and lobbyists who run Congress.

That begins with Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

When it comes to our health security, we are at a crossroads. While at National Nurse press time the Senate and House versions of the bill had yet to be consolidated, it’s clear that workers stand to lose hard-earned Medicare benefits.

A 2010 law on the federal deficit would likely trigger an automatic $25 billion-a-year cut to Medicare. Several Republican Senators have already pledged to go beyond that with even more substantial cuts.  An amendment proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, to require the Senate get a two-thirds vote to make cuts in those three lifesaving programs, was voted down by 51 of the 52 Republican Senators, who were joined by three Democratic Senators, to their shame:

Mark Warner of Virginia, Tom Cooper of Delaware, and Dick Durbin of Illinois.  Further, the tax bill repeal of the Affordable Care Act penalty on people who are uninsured will be cited by insurance companies as the pretext to levy new double-digit premium hikes, on top of double-digit premium hikes that were already coming this year. That will prompt millions more to not buy the expensive private plans, or to only buy junk insurance plans with deductibles so high they skip needed care, at a severe risk to their health.  Other provisions are a reminder of how pernicious, corrupted, mean-spirited and discriminatory our legislative system has become, the direct result of a government that is now of, by, and for the plutocracy (formerly, the people).

The 2010 Citizens United court ruling, permitting unlimited corporate spending in elections, unleashed the wealthiest donors, who threatened to cut off the funding spigot unless they were handed this one-sided, appalling bill that accelerates the gap between corporate profits and worker security—as well as the already staggering wealth and income gap in the United States.  But the mentality of those doing their bidding in Washington is equally revealing.  Take Sen. Chuck Grassley, who defended slashing the estate tax on inherited wealth, saying it “recognizes the people that are investing as opposed to those just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Or Sen. Orrin Hatch, who defended the elimination of the $15 billion a year for the Children’s Health Insurance Program for 9 million at-risk kids this fall by saying, “I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger, and expect the federal government to do everything.” Again, that’s low-income children he’s talking about, at a time he is voting for $1 trillion in welfare for big corporations and the elite.

Our politics don’t have to be this way, of course. We can rebuild a democracy in America, but we’re going to have to do it with everyone participating, from the ground up.