President Donald Trump is being credited with achieving the much-touted and long-awaited first legislative accomplishment of his presidency, signing the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” into law. He described it as “an incredible Christmas gift for hardworking Americans,” but in reality it’s the largest wealth transfer from the bottom to the top in American history.
Congressional Republicans, bused in from Capitol Hill, gathered at the White House for a photo op with the president, where the serial adulatory statements showered on Trump were described by one political commentator as “nearly pornographic.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska made a very important statement, perhaps unwittingly, congratulating the president by saying, “This is a very historic day, of course, but it’s also the beginning of winter solstice … the shortest day, the darkest day.”
This is a dark day for the United States. A country’s annual budget is often described as a moral document, defining the nation’s values. Its tax system codifies its fairness. Who pays into the system, and who reaps the rewards? Clearly, Trump, his family and his businesses will profit enormously. One essential element of this new law is that the tax breaks given to corporations and the wealthy are permanent; those given to the working and middle class are temporary.
“This tax bill is a moral and economic obscenity,” Vermont’s independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said. “It is a gift to wealthy Republican campaign contributors and an insult to the working families of our country. At a time of massive income and wealth inequality this bill would provide the majority of benefits to the top 1 percent and the largest corporations. Unbelievably, at the end of 10 years it would actually raise taxes on millions of middle-class families and, by creating a $1.4 trillion deficit, would pave the way for massive cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other important programs.”
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan essentially confirmed Sanders’ fear when he said in a radio interview in early December, “We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit.” Undermining, eliminating or privatizing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have been central pillars of the conservative movement for decades. By slashing federal tax revenues, Republicans are setting the stage for future deficits that will fuel their jihad to slash these programs, which are vital to middle-class and poor Americans.
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Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, issued a scathing report, stating, “The tax reform package is essentially a bid to make the U.S. the world champion of extreme inequality.”
One person who fears that the tax cuts will kill him is Ady Barkan. He traveled to Washington to oppose the tax bill. On his return flight, he saw Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who has opposed Trump on a number of issues. The video of Ady peppering Flake with questions on board the flight went viral. Ady started by describing how he was recently diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease:
“I was healthy a year ago. I was running on the beach. I’m 33, I have an 18-month-old son, and out of nowhere, I was diagnosed with ALS, which has a life expectancy of three to four years, no treatment, no cure. I probably will need to go on a ventilator to live. This tax bill is probably going to force $400 billion in automatic … cuts, and Mick Mulvaney of the Office of Management and Budget is individually responsible for choosing how to implement those cuts. He thinks people on disabilities are just slackers. So, what happens, what should I tell my son, or what should you tell my son, if you pass this bill and he cuts funding for disability and I can’t get a ventilator?”
The Senate passed the bill after midnight Wednesday, interrupted by protesters, many in wheelchairs, chanting, “Kill the bill! Don’t kill us!” Barkan later tweeted: “Last night after the Senate vote, peaceful protesters in the gallery were telling personal stories about how this bill will hurt them and their families. And Republican Senators were laughing at them. It explains everything. They do not see our humanity.”
Ady Barkan’s fate is uncertain, but one thing is clear: He will continue to fight for a fair, just and equitable society. After the winter solstice, the shortest, darkest day of the year, each day grows longer, each day becomes lighter.