This Q&A is part of Sarah Jaffe’s series Interviews for Resistance, in which she speaks with organizers, troublemakers and thinkers who are doing the hard work of fighting back against America’s corporate and political powers. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Republican leaders are desperate for a political win and are determined to push the tax bill through the Senate without a full assessment of the bill’s potential economic impact. On Tuesday the Senate Budget Committee voted to pass the $1.5 trillion tax bill, clearing the way for a full Senate vote later this week. It is increasingly clear, by many reports, that the legislation will benefit the wealthy in general, and President Trump and his family in particular. Sarah Jaffe examined what the tax bill means for everyone else with Michael Kink, executive director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition, a labor-community coalition that helped win a New York state “Millionaires Tax” and an increase in the state minimum wage.
Sarah Jaffe: The tax bill has already passed one house of Congress. What are some of the highlights and/or lowlights of this thing?
Michael Kink: I would say that it is almost all lowlights. It is a cartoon parody of the most ridiculously unfair tax plan that anyone could come up with. It literally includes an exemption for private jets while taking away tax deductions for the parents of disabled kids. [Editor’s Note: While the House bill proposed cutting deductions for medical expenses, the Senate version does not.] It is utterly, utterly ridiculous. The only highlight is that it is tremendously unpopular. The vast majority of Americans don’t like it, don’t want it, understand that it benefits the wealthy over regular people, understand that it doesn’t close any loopholes and opens up some new ones. The fact is, unless you are incredibly, ridiculously, preposterously rich, you are not going to get much of a benefit at all out of this. And most regular working-class and middle-class people are going to see tax increases. The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation’s official report on the Senate bill said families making between $10,000 a year — which is fairly poor — and $75,000 a year — which is kind of middle class — are going to see tax increases.
The people who get big tax cuts are the heirs and heiresses of billionaires. They are going to inherit their massive fortunes tax-free. Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. and the kids of all the hedge-fund moguls and private-equity titans are going to do really well. Multinational corporations are going to get a massive cut in their tax rate. There are going to be new corporate loopholes, including actual new subsidies for moving profits and jobs overseas — one of the things that Trump voters and Bernie voters and every voter in between was pissed about. The carried-interest loophole is still wide open; and hedge fund managers and private equity managers will benefit from a new pass-through tax scam that will cut their taxes even more. All of these folks are big campaign donors and they use their political contributions to rig the system. This tax bill is a dream for them.
Young people with student debt are going to lose their interest deduction for that debt. School teachers are going to lose their deductions for purchasing teaching supplies. Families struggling with medical expenses could see deductions eliminated [depending on what happens in conference committee]. In terms of health care, the Republican budget and the Republican tax bill work together to set up nearly $1.5 trillion in cuts to non-Medicare health programs. And the tax bill itself sets off $28 billion a year in automatic cuts to Medicare.
Congress is still trying to pass the legislation even though it is incredibly unpopular. Chris Collins, the [Republican] congressman from Buffalo, admitted to a journalist from The Hill that his donors are calling him and they are telling him that they will never return any of his calls again if they don’t pass this bill. He is admitting that the main pressure for this bill is coming from his biggest campaign contributors.
There are a lot of Republican senators that have expressed concerns. Sen. McCain on process, and Sen. Collins on the health care angles, still have some significant opposition. Sens. Corker, Flake, Moran and Langford have all talked about the problems with the bill in increasing the deficit. This bill explodes the deficit by $1.5 trillion. They are going to have problems within their own conference passing this bill quickly.
We need every Democratic senator to oppose it, and we need those couple dozen House Republican members, particularly from big states — New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. Many Republican House members in those states voted against the bill, but many of them voted in favor of the bill. I think the bill that comes back to the House to consider is probably going to be worse than the bill they got before. It is going to hurt more people.
We are working around the country to fight this. A lot of the health care activists and grass-roots activists that fought and beat the health care bill are engaged in this and are fighting back against it. The teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, the Communication Workers of America, the National Nurses United and a bunch of community groups will come together for a national day of action on Wednesday, Nov. 29.
SJ: The one thing I have been thinking about a lot is that the last time we had a Republican president selling us a big package of tax cuts for rich people, it was George W. Bush, and the argument was that it was tax cuts for everybody and that rich people make more money, so they got bigger tax cuts. I just wonder what is happening here?
MK:The Bush tax cuts for the rich included a refundable tax credit where families got checks. Working people got an actual check. You could say, “I got a $400 check and some billionaire a dozen ZIP codes away got a $4 million check.” Regular people who might be Republican or Democratic voters got something.
Nobody gets anything out of this bill. It goes to private-equity titans, hedge-fund managers, international banks and multinational corporations. The Republican Party shows such utter contempt for their voters that I don’t know how long they can exist as a political party. I don’t think most people who are getting hurt from public policies are going to put up with it. There is a larger question of whether there is an actual, forceful, populist, progressive option in mainstream politics that anybody is going to put out there, but the Republicans are working to pass bills that benefit billionaires and their lobbyists.
SJ: That is an interesting point that you bring up: What would we like to see as the alternative? What should anybody who wants to be the leadership of a Progressive/left alternative, be pushing forward right now? Single-payer health care was the obvious alternative in the wake of the repeated health care disasters, but what should we be demanding in response to this?
MK: I think there are two angles to look at. First, if you look at public-opinion polls, most Americans want the wealthy to pay their fair share. Most Americans want to see higher taxes on rich people, not lower taxes on rich people. Most Americans would like to see a lot of loopholes eliminated, particularly the loopholes for outsourcing jobs. Most Americans would like to see a tax system that doesn’t over-reward people that are already wealthy, that doesn’t over-reward people that just invest for a living, and that does something to help families who are struggling. We don’t have any legislation that does that.
Second, what is the “single payer” of economic policy or fiscal policy? We could talk about fiscal policies that redistribute income and invest in the future. We could talk about public goods. We could talk about investing in an economy that would actually employ a lot more people then we have now. We could make the transition into a clean energy infrastructure. We could move forward with single-payer health care and staff that out in a way that responds to our opioid addiction crisis, that responds to the aging of America, that provides more independent living options for seniors and for people with disabilities.
There are a lot of things we could do that would create good, meaningful jobs for Americans with decent paychecks — and we have the money to do it. The Republicans are saying they would be willing to spend $1.5 trillion on something. If we were going to spend $1.5 trillion on clean energy, public health, education and higher education, a lot of people would be in favor of that. The tax system is a way that can provide the resources to do it. You may be scared of the phrase “redistribution of income,” but when pollsters ask questions about making the wealthy pay their fair share and invest in programs that create jobs and pay off for the public in the future, that is what they are talking about. When we have young people supporting socialism over capitalism by significant margins because they have been screwed so badly by the economy, then I think it is incumbent on politicians to provide more effective public policies.
Let’s have something big and powerful like single-payer health care. Let’s have free, affordable, universal child care for all kids that includes a strong early-education program. Let’s get every single kid in America ready to go to school and to be a great learner. If other countries do it, we could do it too. Let’s have a distributed, networked clean energy system that reduces peoples’ electric bills, that reduces climate destroying greenhouse gases, and that creates millions of American jobs for people of every race everywhere in the country. We have the ability to do the big powerful things that people want.
SJ: At the end of the health care fight, we came out with more support than ever for a single-payer health care bill. This could work the same way if the pushback to this is paired with a positive demand. Not just, “No,” but “No, and while you are at it, if you think we have a trillion to spend here, then let’s spend it on creating jobs.”
MK: [It’s] $1.5 trillion. In terms of public policy, it suggests new areas going forward. Everyone understands that if you get rid of the estate tax, it only benefits the heirs and heiresses of the billionaires. That is ridiculous, right? You could say we do not want dynastic wealth in this country. You can get your first billion and keep it, but we are not going to let you keep this 2nd, 3rd, 14th and 30th. We are going to take that and put it back into public goods, because you created Facebook, or that hedge fund, or whatever, with huge amounts of public resources. You used mathematicians trained at land-grant universities. You use the advanced research facilities at colleges and universities. You took patents that were in the public realm and you made a ton of money. We have got to do something to protect our democracy. When the heirs and heiresses of billionaire fortunes can take over an entire political party and force the legislators to pass public policies that the vast majority of their own voters don’t want, there is a problem with democracy.
SJ: What lessons did you and the other folks learn from the health care bill that you are using to fight the tax bill?
MK: On health care, from a movement perspective, it was really interesting to see a lot of different people from different backgrounds realize how much they have in common. I think in tax policy, you have seen something of the same commonality of purpose happening with the Indivisible groups, with the labor unions, with the students, and the Bernie people and the more conventional big national unions jumping into this fight. Again, on health care, it is arguably a little more emotional, it is a little more immediate, but I think that experience set people up to think about the tax fight in a similar way. And the fact that the tax fight includes a health care fight makes it a lot easier to make that leap.
SJ: How can people get involved in some of these various actions that are going to be coming up this week?
MK: StopGOPtaxscam.com. There are some simple bullets on the plan and there is a whole set of days of actions where folks can click through. That hashtag, #GOPtaxscam, is also going to be in place where you can look on Twitter and Facebook. There will be a lot of local events. I think the face to face is really important; going to events, joining with other people. There are certainly a plethora of online calling tools. You should call your member of Congress, your House member and your senator. If you go to www.stoptrumptaxcuts.org, if you got to Tax Policy Center, if you go to www.notonepenny.org, there are a lot of places you are going to get a “Click here, put in your ZIP code and we will call your senator and your House member for you.”
Indivisible has an action plan. Organizing For Action is doing a national day of actions. And we are aiming for a grass-roots march on Wall Street on Saturday, Dec. 2. If the bill keeps going, as we expect it will, into December, we are going to aim for a second wave of direct action/protests on Capitol Hill on Dec. 5. So, I do think that there are going to be several opportunities over the next couple of weeks for people power to try to work its magic one more time.
Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.