The GOP Tax Bill Trump Just Signed Shows Republicans For Who They Really Are

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Republican members of the House and Senate celebrate the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on the White House South Lawn on Dec. 20. Getty

President Donald Trump on Friday signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It is a major achievement for a Republican Party that otherwise struggles to function, and for a scandal-laden presidency whose unpopularity continues to grow.

The new law will touch those who pay taxes. That's virtually everyone you know. The bill, thanks to its giant size and scope, is a rare opportunity to examine the ideas animating one of the major political parties. That's the upside. The downside? They're all bad.

Against "small-r" republican deliberation. Under normal circumstances, a piece of legislation the size and scope of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would be vetted as much as possible by everyone with a stake in it. A draft bill would be released to the press and the public. Committees in the House and Senate would hold hearings and request testimony from experts. Lawmakers from each party would debate for days and weeks. After taking all this into consideration, the draft would go back to committee. There would be more debate on the floors of the House and Senate, and then, a final vote.

This did not happen. Not remotely. The bill was drafted in secret. It was released the evening of Dec. 15, five days before the Congress passed it. The president signed the bill Friday. It all took a week, and it gets worse.

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President Donald Trump talks with media at the signing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Dec. 22. Getty

Voters from around the country send men and women to Congress to represent their interests in the deliberation of the government's business. This is the essential definition of "small-r" republicanism. Yet the Republicans barred the Democrats from giving input. In effect, they barred roughly half the electorate from having a say in a law that's going to impact everyone.

Conservatives have asked liberals who dislike the law this question: Would you like it more if Congress had spent months deliberating? The answer is yes, absolutely. If, after proper deliberation, the majority still believed the bill was the right direction to go in, fine; at least everyone had a say. That conservatives are inclined to ask this question suggests that, to them, the ends justify the means. In other words, this Republican Party stands against republican deliberation.

Against budgets. It's been said the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is not reform, because it merely reshuffles the tax code instead of truly reforming it. That's true, but it's not a tax cut, either.

Economists will tell you tax cuts have meaning only in the context of budgets. Budgets consist of revenues and expenses. Given that the law adds as much as $2.2 trillion over 10 years to the nation's existing $20 trillion debt, the term would be "tax deferral." It kicks the responsibility of balancing the budget down the road.

You might say growth will solve that. Once the law takes effect, businesses will have more to invest and hire, which will in turn put more money in voters' pockets. The difference, then, between "tax deferral" and "tax cut" is time.

That assumes the majority of economists are wrong in saying tax deference and tax cuts have little appreciable effect on the U.S. economy. It also assumes something else: that big corporations will not pass the savings along to shareholders. In fact, we know that's precisely what they will do. They have said so.

All of the above may sound picky, but there are real consequences to the GOP's habit of calling apples oranges. Now that they are exploding the deficit, Republicans want to cut spending, particularly social insurance programs. Their rationale will be that the U.S. can't afford them. The solution will be a mix of cutbacks (Medicaid) and privatization (Social Security and Medicare).

This is maddening, of course, given the Republicans created the problem. But this is far more complex than mere hypocrisy on the issue of spending. The GOP stands against the concept of budgets, which means it stands against responsible governance. This suggests it is simply a party of oligarchs that can operate not only with indifference to democracy but with impunity as well.

Against the American dream. At the center of the American dream is a theory of liberty. While no one is born equal, we all have equal opportunity to pursue happiness—if we are willing to work for it. Some can't work, of course, liberty stems from the value of work.

The GOP has put the value of work at the center of its policy views for the last four decades. This is most visible in debates over "welfare." The government should not reward idleness. It should be in the business of encouraging work.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act closes a chapter in the history of the Republican Party in which it at least paid lip service to the value of work and hence the pursuit of happiness. Contrary to decades of policy intended to discourage dependence on government handouts, this new law penalizes labor while rewarding idleness. How? By taxing wages at higher rates than capital and ownership.

The GOP stands against idleness, until the idle are rich.

Some Republicans complain that liberals are misrepresenting the new law. The middle class does get a tax cut, albeit a small one, they said. Saying the new law benefits only the very wealthy distorts what's really happening.

While true, this view fails to see the forest through the trees. The intent of this law is not to serve the majority of the people, as one would expect in a republican democracy. Its primary focus is serving a small minority with the power to pass this new law. The GOP's critics always knew what the party stood for.

Now everyone else can too.

John Stoehr is a fellow at the Yale Journalism Initiative, a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly, an essayist for the New Haven Register and a U.S. News & World Report contributing editor.

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