Friday, December 22, 2017

Tax Bill Passed by Congress Benefits the Few at the Expense of the Most Vulnerable

This is an op-ed submitted to the Harrisburg Patriot News with request for publication, by Rev. Sandra Strauss

As people of faith concerned for our vulnerable neighbors, we are saddened and deeply troubled by the passage of tax legislation that benefits highly profitable corporations and a very wealthy few at the expense of the vast majority of vulnerable Americans in lower and middle income brackets. Congress took this action despite a growing majority of Americans that voiced their concern and opposed the bill. In this season of joy, giving, and celebration, it feels as if the masses have awoken to find only a lump of coal in their stocking.

According to CLASP Executive Director Olivia Golden, “By 2027, even the scant cuts for moderate income taxpayers will expire, and every income group below $75,000 will, on average, see their taxes rise. The broad package of tax cuts and new loopholes will add $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit, leading the way to deep cuts to programs that promote economic opportunity, such as Medicaid, nutrition assistance, postsecondary financial aid, and public education, as well as those that meet our commitment to seniors, such as Social Security and Medicare.” Added to these cuts is elimination of the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act, which is expected to result in as many as 13 million losing their health insurance, as well as a destabilizing of markets—causing a rise of at least 10 percent in individual market premiums.

And while families and individuals are obvious targets for pain, this legislation also takes direct aim at one of the world’s most pristine, beautiful, and fragile areas—targeting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling. Drilling threatens to upset the delicate balance that exists among the land, animals, and native peoples, and continued extraction of fossil fuels threatens our very existence as temperatures continue to rise globally.

Those who supported and voted for this morally bankrupt legislation claim that it will create jobs and put more money in the hands of average working Americans. However, as documented in publications ranging from Forbes to the Atlantic to the New York Times, economists from both sides of the aisle have forecasted “disastrous consequences” (Forbes). Instead of more jobs and higher wages, most economists claim that more jobs will go overseas, workers will not see raises (at a time when other supports are expected to decline), and shareholders will reap the harvest of lower corporate taxes.

This is not a recipe for a growing economy. As a public policy student, I found it was easy to grasp some of the most elementary principles of the “dismal science.” Pent up demand, for example—struggling consumers put many demands on hold when wages are depressed, unemployment is high, and available resources are eaten up by the cost of essential goods and services like housing, food, and utilities. Evidence over time shows that economies grow when more money is available to struggling consumers, who put it quickly back into the economy by purchasing items that have been on hold or by splurging on food, entertainment, and other items that may have been out of reach. As we’ve learned since the implementation of “supply side economics” during the Reagan era, massive tax cuts for corporations, the wealthy, and reducing regulations have done nothing to help those they purport to help.

Far too many Americans are already teetering on the edge. Economists, social scientists and others have forecast that this tax legislation will damage or decimate programs that benefit the vast majority of our neighbors. Environmental scientists warn that further threats to the environment through cuts to vital protection programs threaten to compound the impacts of an already changing climate, and to create unlivable conditions that affect the health and welfare of individuals and families where we live.

Millions in faith communities across the country hold our elected officials in prayer. We continue to do so, with special prayers today that they may learn to listen more closely to their constituents, learn empathy, and feel compassion for those who are not like them and do not agree with them, and that they acquire a heart for justice for all people. It is my personal hope that hearts that are “two sizes too small” (like the Grinch) begin to grow—and that as faithful citizens we hold them accountable for their actions. We cannot permit this action to stand without expressing our outrage and demanding better.

The Rev. Sandra Strauss is director of Advocacy & Ecumenical Outreach for the Pennsylvania Council of Churches. She holds a Masters in Public Policy from Duke University and is ordained as Minister of Word and Sacrament with the Presbyterian Church.