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There Really Is One Thing Congress Can Agree On - And It’s Not Tax Breaks for You and Me

EASTSIDER-Under President Trump there was a very partisan fight over the tax cut plan for the already richest Americans. Four years later there was an equally partisan food fight in Congress over the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, with virtually no Republican support.  

But guess where Democrats and Republicans all seem to agree? The Defense Department Budget!  Honest. 

Read on. . . 

Trump and the Tax Cuts 

Remember 2017? Remember the lies? Reducing the corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%, along with tax code amendments which favored the already wealthy. The theory was that corporations and the 1% would plow all that new money into more jobs for you and me. Sure. 

As NBC News noted, there was not a single Democrat voted in favor of the bill: 

“WASHINGTON — Congress approved a sweeping $1.5 trillion tax bill on Wednesday that slashes rates for corporations, provides new breaks for private businesses and reorganizes the individual tax code. 

The Senate passed the GOP bill early Wednesday morning and the House then voted on it for a second time to fix technical problems with the legislation, the final step before it's sent to President Donald Trump for his signature. No Democrats in either the House or Senate backed the measure.” 

Bloomberg, of course gave the rich folks rationale. 

“Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign website says, “Tax experts estimate that over the long run, 83% of Trump’s tax giveaway will flow to the top 1% of earners in this country.” That’s not quite fair to the president, though. While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was far from perfect, it did cut taxes on the middle class and fueled the economic growth that brought unemployment rates to half-century lows before the pandemic. 

The 83% claim comes from a study by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and refers to rates in 2027, which is after almost all of the TCJA cuts of individual income taxes are slated to expire. A fairer benchmark is what would happen to taxes while the Trump cuts are still in place. In 2025, according to the Tax Policy Center, the top 1% would get 25% of the cut. That’s still a lot, but keep in mind that the top 1% also pay a lot.” 

Investopedia, on the other hand, gave a more straightforward take on the deal: 

“For the wealthy, banks, and other corporations, the tax reform package was considered a lopsided victory given its significant and permanent tax cuts to corporate profits, investment income, estate tax, and more. Financial services companies stood to see huge gains based on the new, lower corporate rate (21%), as well as the more preferable tax treatment of pass-through companies. Some banks said their effective tax rate would drop under 21%.” 

Biden’s Stimulus Plan

Come to 2021 and President Biden went big to try and help the rest of us, suffering from loss in income and the horrible effects of the Pandemic. 

Variously called the American Rescue Plan and the COVID Stimulus Bill, everyone agrees that it was a $1.9 trillion package aimed directly at the middle class and below. The disenfranchised who had lost jobs, become marginalized, and were really, really, hurt by the Pandemic and job displacement. You know, the folks that you and I know, including a lot of people of color who have basically lost everything. 

Yet the final House vote on the Stimulus Bill was 220- 211, with no Republican votes. And this was after the Senate finally passed a slightly modified version of the initial House ill on a 50-49 party line vote. 

I will only mention a couple of the establishment economist/corporate media fronts against the bill.  First the Economist, struck back: 

“Before Joe Biden became president, Congress had already spent $4trn fighting the crisis. Now he proposes $1.9trn more emergency spending, which would take the total to over 25% of GDP in 2019. Republicans think that is too much. A group of the party’s senators has made a counter-offer of a plan worth about $600bn (see article).” 

And from the BusinessInsider, we have: 

“Two major left-leaning economists further fueled the debate: Larry Summers, director of the National Economic Council under President Barack Obama, wrote in a recent Washington Post column that Biden's plan handily exceeds the amount of support needed for a full recovery. Olivier Blanchard, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, backed Summers' thesis, tweeting the $1.9 trillion plan could accelerate growth so much "as to be counterproductive," later defending his concerns in an article for the Petersen Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.” 

Notice how they mischaracterize Larry Summers as a lefty. He is for sure an egotist and ideologue, but left leaning? C’mon. 

And Then There’s the Defense Bill - Chow Time for Congress 

The one humongous item that brings Democrat and Republican together in an absolute love fest is the Defense Budget! Yes folks, they’re all in the Washington swamp when it comes to the biggest  military establishment in the world, all full of contracts and hardware for the last war. 

I’m not knocking the folks that are in our military. I’m sure they are good people and I have no gripe with them. 

However, take a look at that huge city called the Pentagon. As Wikipedia explains, 

“The Pentagon is the world's largest office building, with about 6,500,000 square feet (150 acres; 0.60 km2) of floor space, of which 3,700,000 sq ft (85 acres; 0.34 km2) are used as offices.[7][8] Some 23,000 military and civilian employees,[8] and another 3,000 non-defense support personnel, work in the Pentagon. It has five sides, five floors above ground, two basement levels, and five ring corridors per floor with a total of 17.5 miles (28.2 km)[8] of corridors. The central five-acre (2.0 ha) pentagonal plaza is nicknamed "ground zero" on the presumption that it would be a prime target in a nuclear war.[9] “ 

That’s one heck of a lot of people who are working to justify their existence, especially with little real oversight by our Congress critters. 

As the Defense Department’s own news release summarized the 2021 Budget: 

“On February 10, 2020, President Donald J. Trump sent Congress a proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget request of $740.5 billion for national security, $705.4 billion of which is for the Department of Defense (DoD). The FY 2021 budget supports the irreversible implementation of the National Defense Strategy (NDS), which drives the Department's decision-making in reprioritizing resources and shifting investments to prepare for a potential future, high-end fight.” 

In the House, the vote was overwhelming. As my seriously lefty friends over at the WorldSocialists noted: 

“The overwhelming bipartisan vote by the House of Representatives Tuesday evening to approve the largest military budget in American history demonstrates the reality of capitalist politics. Democrats and Republicans are supposedly at each other’s throats over an array of social and political issues, but they are entirely in agreement on funding the world’s largest and most lethal military machine.

The House vote for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was by a massive margin, 335–78. Democrats supported passage by 195–37. Republicans supported passage by 140–40. Every leader of the House Democrats backed passage: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn. They were joined by the top Republicans: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Minority Whip Steve Scalise and the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, the co-sponsor of the massive bill, Mac Thornberry of Texas.” 

And the Senate wasn’t much different: The site GovTrack graphically tracked the 86-14 vote: 

As Fox News itself characterized the vote, Senate passes 2021 defense bill with veto-proof majority, defying Trump's threats. 

Need I say more? 

The Takeaway 

If all these juxtapositions seem weird, they are. However, they are real. 

In a rational political system, there would be some correlation between what the electorate wants and what the elected officials actually vote for. It is clear that our current set of politicians are not paying much attention to this benchmark. 

So why this fracturing of our body politic? I personally attribute a lot of the change to the incredible advance of social media, led by Google and Facebook. Their entire business model is monetizing clicks, with no interest in truth.  More angry people more clicks, and more money for them, even as they monetize all our personal data and sell it to the highest bidder. 

Print news, even as it dies a rapid death, at least had to stand behind what their reporters wrote. So the articles were fact checked before going out to the printer. Not so much for the new electronic “news” media. 

The other factor is the obscene wealth inequity in the U.S., where the ultra-rich are now able to buy and sell our representatives almost at will. Between these two factors, take another look at Congress and who they really represent.  

Think about it.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Mariordo Camila Ferreira & Mario Duran / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0) and Andrew Magill / Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.