Responsible governing

To the Editor:

Senate Republicans passed their tax bill at 1 a.m. on Dec. 2. Only one Republican voted against it, and it wasn’t Susan Collins.

Democrats and independents were completely excluded from meaningful participation in the process. This bill was rushed through planning in two months and deliberations in two weeks without waiting for an official assessment on its effects on the economy, the debt or the real cost to the taxpayer.

Sen. Angus King declared, “To call this a circus would be an insult to circuses.” There was no reason, absent pure politics, to rush.

A broad majority of outside economists who have scored the bill found many reasons for alarm. The Senate’s own Joint Committee on Taxation found the bill adds $1 trillion to the national debt, even after accounting for the unproven promises of economic growth made by its proponents. Wall Street analysts are worried what shape that growth might take, speaking of an economic “sugar rush” that could lead to another big crash, possibly as soon as 2019 or 2020.

On top of that, the uneven distribution of individual tax cuts, caused in part by prioritizing cuts to taxes on businesses, unearned income and inheritance rather than wages, has been forecast to leave only the richest benefitting in the long run. The tax breaks accessible to the average family will be no more than a few hundred dollars and will fall as the years go on. These small savings will not be enough to offset the projected increase in costs to the tax payer, including a rise in health care costs via higher insurance premiums and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

The bill repeals the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, a mechanism that lowers risk for everyone: everyone chips in, and those contributions help keep you and your family safe from financial ruin in times of medical trouble. Without the mandate, it’s projected that more people will risk going without insurance, leaving them vulnerable to fate’s whims, which in turn will leave everyone else on the hook to absorb the health care bills they can’t pay. That will accelerate cost increases, including to insurance premiums, and bring further financial instability to hospitals and other health care institutions.

Looming over all else is the existential threat this bill poses to Medicare, Medicaid and other positive benefits to society as a whole. To pay for the tax cuts, Republican leadership has laid plans to slash funding to the programs under the guise of welfare reform. If they don’t specifically vote to save them from the chopping block, the tax bill will cut $25 billion from Medicare next year, and a further $111 billion from other sources, on top of a possible $65 billion from education called for by the House. With these cuts, the tax bill will end up hurting everyone but the rich.

This is a bill that uses the American people as collateral against a debt, borrowed by Republican Party leadership in order to reward their donor class. They will try to convince us it represents a great legislative victory that proves they really can govern, a Pyrrhic victory if ever there was one.

On Dec. 1, Sen. Collins said to “PBS News Hour” that the cuts to Medicare were unacceptable to her. She also expressed concern for the Affordable Care Act, specifically the subsidies that help people buy insurance. She said that she has received promises that cuts to these programs will not come to pass. How does this square with years of statements Republican Party leaders have made about cutting Medicare, a project long near and dear to their hearts? Not only did they reiterate these intentions within the last week, but Sen. Marco Rubio revealed that Social Security is also one of the party’s next targets for cuts. How substantial can the promises to Collins possibly be? She is gambling with our health care and economy while holding a pretty weak hand.

What I find most troubling about the senator’s actions is how her vote breaks with her past convictions. When she voted last spring in the Education Committee to bring Betsy DeVos’ nomination to the floor despite DeVos’ false statements to the committee and her opposition to the nominee, Collins said that not blocking a vote on the nomination was simply a matter of how these things have always been done, and she would not exercise her power to stand in the way of that tradition.

The process to pass this tax bill flouted both Senate tradition and common-sense caution when it comes to reshaping the country’s economy. There has not been a party-line tax bill in living memory: not under Bush, Clinton, Reagan and beyond. Never before has a tax bill sought to outrun the release of official analysis of its true costs. If the decorum of the Senate is of such importance to Collins, how could she possibly have voted for this huge bill in the middle of the night after nearly no deliberation by the Senate as whole? If she no longer believes these standards to be important for responsible governing, why?

In this moment, it is very hard to square her stated convictions about moderation, comity and fiscal prudence with her vote.

Lauren Kuffler

Mount Desert

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