This is kind of a nutso time for trying to follow the news, we get it. Every day, Donald Trump is either threatening to tweet us into nuclear Armageddon or arresting and deporting more people; the mayor and the governor are squabbling over who’s not going to fix the irrevocably broken subways and the irrevocably broken housing market; and there have probably been another five sexual harassment revelations just since you began reading this sentence. So if you’ve chosen to ignore the tax bill currently moving through Congress as just one more thing than you can possibly take — and one that involves a lot of math to boot — that’s entirely understandable.
It’s also a really bad idea, because the Republican tax plan — really two plans, one passed by the House, the other possibly getting voted on by the Senate today — promises to be one of the largest redistributions of money in U.S. history. If you have kids, if you live in a high-tax state like New York, if you deduct things on your tax return, if you get too cold, it will affect you and your children and your children’s children in ways that only the Joint Committee on Taxation knows for sure.
So because it’s important, and because we know you need to save brain space for who the layabout aristocracy is marrying, we’re presenting some of the lowlights to you, in a simple question-and-answer format:
What will the tax bill mean for me, personally?
That all depends on who you are:
Is there anything good in the tax bill for normal people?
The House bill would eliminate the use of federally tax-exempt municipal bonds to fund private sports stadiums, which would mean New Yorkers would no longer be subsidizing sports venues in Milwaukee and Cincinnati. (The Brookings Institution has calculated that this has cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $4 billion since 2000.) A similar provision would prohibit tax-subsidized bonds from being used for private housing projects, which would hobble Mayor de Blasio’s plans to get private developers to build affordable housing, but maybe would force cities to build more public housing their own damn selves, so that’s a tougher call. Plus, of course, both of these could end up getting removed in negotiations to reconcile the eventual House and Senate bills, so don’t hold your breath too much.
Is this really going to happen? I got all worried about Obamacare repeal last summer, and then the Republicans tripped over their own feet and it never happened.
True, this Republican-led Congress has seemed uniquely incapable of getting any legislation enacted, which can lead to a false sense of security. And the tax bill is such a cornucopia of trash fires that even a lot of Republicans hate it for one reason or another. Last night the Senate leadership appeared ready to grab defeat from the jaws of victory when the Joint Committee on Taxation projected the bill, instead of paying for itself as Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had claimed, would increase the deficit by $1 trillion. This upset some Republicans who are upset by such things, and delayed a vote until today at the earliest. (Senate debate resumes at 10 a.m.)
That’s the thing, though: Almost none of the Republican objections to the bill are over the tax-the-poor-and-middle-class-to-give-tax-cuts-to-the-wealthy problems listed above, but rather about smaller concerns. Bob Corker (R-TN), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), James Lankford (R-OK), and Todd Young (R-IN) have all expressed reservations about increasing the deficit; Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Steve Daines (R-MT) want extra tax breaks for businesses whose owners report their profits on their individual tax returns (late update: Daines said this morning that he’s a yes vote); Susan Collins (R-ME) opposes undermining Obamacare. The Senate leadership is currently trying to find ways to reduce the deficit bloat, but that would almost certainly mean raising taxes in the future, which could make some current supporters of the bill switch sides. It only takes three Republican “no” votes to kill the bill, so pretty much anyone could play the spoiler role here.
Enough about political horse-trading! I am angry, and I have a pitchfork and a flaming torch! Where do I line up to protest?
Things have mostly been pretty quiet on the vengeful mob front: A bunch of religious leaders sent a sternly worded letter to Congress, and some of them got arrested yesterday for holding a pray-in inside the Senate Office Building. Graduate students, who would have to pay taxes on their tuition breaks they get in exchange for teaching courses under the House bill, staged walkouts the day before. There have been scattered additional protests in several cities, but most groups opposed to the bills — including the New York Times’ Twitter feed — are telling concerned citizens to call both their senators and swing votes from other states, which you can do here.
When a bill of this scale last came around in 1982, it sailed through — memorialized in The Onion’s retroactive headline, “Congress Allocates $300 Billion to Nation’s Rich.” If you’ve been looking around and thinking, “The U.S. economy would be doing so much better if only Ronald Reagan had given even more money to rich people,” then these are the bills for you; if not, you may want to get those dialing fingers ready.