Four of the five Republicans in Congress from New Jersey voted against the Republican tax bill in the end, no doubt because they understand their careers are on the line.
Rep. Tom MacArthur, one of the richest members of Congress, is the exception. He has become a reliable cheerleader for Donald Trump, and might even believe the nonsense he spews about the magic of trickle-down economics. More on him later.
But what about the other four? Do they deserve a share of the blame as well?
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th), most certainly does. A staunch ally of Trump, he voted for the early version of this bill. He switched sides, he says, when his efforts to save the deduction for state and local taxes failed. In that story line, Frelinghuysen is the man of principle, loyal to his district in the end.
After the vote, several Republican sources reinforced that story by telling Politico that party leaders were furious with Frelinghuysen, and considered stripping him of his chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee as punishment.
Really? We live in a skeptical age, for good reason, so please consider a darker possibility.
Frelinghuysen’s final vote was for show, a stunt approved by party leaders eager to help him escape the political backlash that was building in his district. Party leaders had a few votes to spare, and they let Frelinghuysen bail, so he could protect his political flank.
According to a report in The Hill, Frelinghuysen consulted party leaders before he cast his “no” vote. The fact that he remains chairman and was not punished for this vote tells us that the huffing and puffing of party leaders could be fake.
Frelinghuysen needs to venture out of his cave and face voters who are furious about this. Why did he vote for this monstrous bill in the first place? And why should voters forget that?
Three Republicans — Reps. Leonard Lance (R-7th), Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd) and Chris Smith (R-4th) – opposed this bill from the start, just as they opposed the repeal of Obamacare. So, give them credit.
But with a caveat. They all base their opposition to this bill on the new $10,000 cap on SALT deductions, the poison provision that makes New Jersey one of just four states that will lose money under this new law.
So, would they support this monstrous bill if that provision were changed?
We are about to add $1 trillion in debt over the next decade, possibly more than $2 trillion. So, all the talk about deficits was just fake.
The Republican claim that middle-class families are the big winners is a lie, plain and simple. They get scraps that disappear automatically. By the end of the 10 years, only the top 20 percent will see any gain as a group, and most of that will go to the top 1 percent, according to the respected Tax Policy Center. Meanwhile, people like Trump, MacArthur, and Frelinghuysen will each save millions of dollars from changes to the inheritance tax alone. They will also benefit from the business tax cuts, and the cut in the top marginal rate.
The flaws in this bill go way beyond the SALT deduction.
It will set up a boom in tax avoidance, since it establishes different rates for different types of income. A salaried employee could reap a windfall by turning into an independent contractor, for example. So much for tax simplification. Aside from the rich, the big winners will be tax attorneys.
This bill answers none of the core challenges we face. It will handicap efforts to fix the infrastructure by depleting the federal treasury and by making it much harder for states like New Jersey to raise the needed tax revenue. It offers the economy a sugar-high stimulus at a time of near full employment and record corporate profits. It widens the income gap at a time of historic economic injustice.
MacArthur defends all this with a zeal of an ideologue. He dismisses hard evidence from the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation. He brushes past the near-consensus view of private economists who predict that the bill will have little impact on growth. And he has helped party leaders rush approval of these massive changes without holding hearings, a new low even for Washington.
The truth is that this bill is all about serving wealthy donors, who are pressing Republicans for short-term gains. Trump will soon sign it, and then stink up the discussion by repeating his familiar lies, saying rich people like him won’t benefit at all, and that the real winners are middle-class families.
It is sad state of affairs. And the only real answer is to dethrone Republicans in Congress who are joining in this disgrace.