Democratic Tax Reforms?

Last week in the NTD News commentary, I offered my perception that the Democratic Party needs to present a stronger issue-oriented image. Instead of spending hours of media time reacting to Donald Trump’s endless string of foolish actions and legislative demands, Democrats should proactively be presenting their own clearly defined legislative proposals for helping the American public.

I know that the Democrats who represent us in the House and Senate would say that this is already happening. The periodic email messages from those office holders or from national party leaders (along with a fund solicitation) usually include information about bills the Democrats support or oppose. Even so, as I follow the media each day I am not getting the impression that the American public has any clear idea of what specific legislation Democrats advocate.

So, last Wednesday I noted that Republican efforts to pass a “tax reform” package offers a perfect opportunity for the Democratic Party to position its agenda in the public’s mind. A short, memorable list of tax changes benefiting average Americans is one way to clearly differentiate our priorities from the “reforms” being pushed by Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump and their corporate and billionaire masters.

What specific tax legislation could the Democrats declare they are fighting for? — Well, before I get into that I would point out that this urgent Republican effort to revamp the entire tax system at this moment in time is a highly questionable priority. Is it wise to completely overhaul our tax laws within such a ridiculously short time frame. Is the urgency warranted?  

In a recent political TV discussion I saw (I think it was Shields and Brooks) it was pointed out that thirty years ago when the last major tax reform legislation was created it required a bi-partisan effort that spanned more than four years! The Republican and Democratic lawmakers leading that endeavor had decades of experience in Congress dealing with budget issues. They were recognized as the best minds for the task.

In contrast to this, the present Republican tax legislative package has been hurriedly pieced together in just months in order to meet a Christmas Day deadline arbitrarily set by President Donald J. Trump. The package is full of wishful thinking, highly questionable economic assumptions and linguistic diversions meant to hide the future negative impact it will have on much of the middle class.

Within the hundreds of pages of the GOP plan, there are scores of twists and turns that have little to do with addressing the most pressing concerns of the vast majority of Americans. And the more the public learns about the details, the clearer the real purpose of this supposed “reform” becomes. The GOP’s highest priority, as it has been for decades, boils down to one goal: how to help America’s wealthiest citizens acquire more money. Not that there’s anything wrong with acquiring money. Who doesn’t like that?

But a national agenda that pursues more wealth for a few at the expense of many who have much less is not a healthy direction for a democracy. How does the lowering of our highest income tax bracket, or the eventual elimination of inheritance taxes (no matter how huge the inheritance) improve the prospects of the other 98% of Americans? — It doesn’t. In my relatively long life I’ve never seen the “horse and sparrow” approach pay off for the American majority. (“Horse and sparrow” is a perfect description of the Republican economic philosophy. Look it up.)

For years, America’s middle class has been dealing with shrinking financial security. And in virtually every region of our nation there are struggling small businesses, blue-collar workers in declining industries, college graduates hindered from pursuing their dreams by crushing debt, entrepreneurs trying to launch job-creating ideas. — Smart tax reform can help them all.

So yes, for the good of America’s middle class some reforms are needed right away. But the list of immediately needed reforms can be much shorter than the monster plan Republicans are attempting to rush through Congress.

This is where Democrats should plant their flag.

Democratic leaders should be pushing a short list of tax reforms that deal with issues such as student debt, small business stability, disastrous medical expenses, entrepreneurial enterprise, infrastructure investment (perhaps encouraged by a lowered tax rate for repatriated corporate funds). I’m sure focused Democrats could compile a list of reforms that would resonate with millions of Americans.

Our legislators could also propose an easily understandable reform that recognizes a glaring inequity in our highest tax bracket. Right now someone making $100 million or even $1 billion dollars in a year pays the same tax rate as someone making a lower-end six-figure income. Creating higher brackets for these super-high incomes would be an understandable way to offset some of the revenue losses caused by tax cuts for average Americans.

Many economists have reported that the Republican “reforms” will add as much as $1.5 trillion dollars to the national debt over the next ten years. Is lowering taxes for our wealthiest taxpayers really so urgent a need that we must raise our national debt even higher?

As we approach the 2018 election year, it’s time for our Democratic Party’s leaders to present a doable package  of goals that are easily understood, believable, memorable — and will actually help people. The sooner they get their act together on this, the better for all of us.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973