Indivisible Yolo Podcast – Amanda Wilcox of the Brady Campaign
This week Amanda Wilcox sat down with our podcast hosts to chat about the Brady Campaign, their legislative agenda – both in California and nationally – and to discuss the impact of the Parkland shooting on legislation and our national conversation about gun violence and sensible gun laws.
Amanda mentioned a wealth of resources for involvement, including a number of bills in Congress. Brady’s three main legislative goals, nationally, are to ban assault weapons, expand background checks, and to expand funding for gun violence restraining orders, which would allow courts to strip gun ownership from persons deemed dangerous to themselves and others by those who know them personally. Currently, California maintains a host of laws that achieve those ends, and has seen a 53% drop in gun deaths – homicide and suicide – since their implementation.
Nationally, there are bills in both the House and Senate, they are:
H.R. 4240 and S. 2009 would both expand background checks.
H.R. 5087 and S. 2095 would ban assault weapons.
H.R. 2598 and S. 1212 would expand funding for the gun violence restraining orders, or ‘extreme risk protection order,’ as it’s called here in California.
Representative Garamendi is a cosponsor of all three House bills, which certainly merits a thank you: (530) 753-5301.
Senator Feinstein is a cosponsor of the first, and authored the latter two, which definitely deserves a thanks: (415) 393-0707.
Senator Harris has cosponsored the first two, but not S. 1212. It’d be worth asking her why: (916) 448-2787.
Currently, all bills are in their respective Judiciary Committees. Both of our Senators serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, so while you’re on the phone, consider urging them to get these bills discharged to the Senate floor.
In California, Brady has two main goals: raise the minimum age for long gun purchase to 21, with AB3, and improve awareness of the Gun Violence Restraining Order Law, which was passed in 2014. The Law would allow courts to prohibit someone from owning a firearm or ammunition – removing what they already own and preventing them from buying more. Family members, domestic partners, or long-term roommates can ask the courts to issue a prohibition if they feel someone may be a danger to themselves or others.
To learn more about the Gun Violence Restraining Order Law, and to get involved, head to http://speakforsafety.org, or text ‘movement’ to 877877.
To get involved with the Brady Campaign here in the Sacramento Valley, check out the Brady Campaign website, or send an email to BradySacramento@gmail dot com to attend their next meeting on March 17th!
Dr Mindy Romero, Director of the California Civic Engagement Project at UC Davis, joins our hosts on the podcast this week. Dr. Romero founded the Civic Engagement project to address a need for more research on civic engagement, particularly voting behavior, and particularly in respect to underrepresented groups, and disparity in both engagement and representation. The CCEP aims to understand why and how groups are underrepresented and disenfranchised, with the goal of aiding in the implementation of solutions to create a more representative democracy.
On CCEP’s website, http://ccep.ucdavis.edu, you can find a whole host of resources and all of CCEP’s publications. There you can find a number of tools, including a mapping tool that visualizes the findings of the Center’s research – down to a neighborhood level. It visualizes participation and voter turnout, and draws correlations between engagement and social, economic, and environmental outcomes.
Currently CCEP is working on projects pertaining to elections, both pre- and post-election. Before an election they look questions around policy and summarize what to expect in the election, and afterward, questions around what happened – who participated, how to make sense of the outcome, what, if anything, would have changed it, and how to increase turnout in the future. Another major focus is election behavior and voting reforms, like online voter registration and California’s new pre-registration program.
Beyond voting, CCEP does research around policy, including a project focused around a new bill called the “Ballot Initiative Transparency Act.” Currently, California does a lot of its legislating through the ballot box – some notable examples include legalizing recreational marijuana, or reforming the appeals process for the death penalty. CCEP is planning to track how this bill will affect the way that Californians vote on ballot initiatives, and if it changes voting behavior in the future.
CCEP also looks at voter disenfranchisement, and one of its current major emphases is the youth vote. Their website will soon host a new study on youth turnout and participation in California’s central valley, particularly focused on Latino youth. They ask why youth engage, what engagement means to them, what opportunities and barriers exist in their communities, and whether what we think of as civic engagement actually matches up with what’s available to young people, and what makes sense in their lives. As is true of any survey, metrics must match and reflect what they aim to study, and it’s not clear that traditional metrics always match or resonate with young people’s experience. The CCEP is interested in examining these metrics in an effort to better study young people’s engagement and motives.
In addition to ongoing projects, CCEP partners with any number of organizations and individuals to address any burning questions and help them better advocate or legislate for Californians. They also partner with dissemination groups in an effort to make sure that the research is heard and understood by as many people as possible. They do briefings at the capital, through the press office at UC Davis, through advocacy organizations and lawmakers offices, and hold talks and conferences throughout the state to help get the word out. That kind of outreach and “aggressive dissemination” is key to making sure the research has an impact – information is only useful if as many people know about it as possible. It’s also key to make sure that it is easy to understand and accessible for anyone who needs it, which is why CCEP’s website is full of data visualization tools and tables, and why all of their research is published there with open access to all. But CCEP knows that it can always do more to make sure its findings reach affected groups, and is constantly looking for education and outreach opportunities.
One of CCEP’s major studies, “As California Goes, So Goes the Nation?” looks at the changing demographics in California, how that’s changed the makeup of voters, and what that means for California and the nation. It’s no surprise that California’s demographics have changed significantly with respect to race, ethnicity, and age. Compared to 1980, a common marker for demographic research, the Latino population has grown from 19% to 39%, and currently is larger than the white population (38%). Asian Americans are currently about 13%, and African Americans are about 6% of California’s population. This means California is a much more diverse state than it was even 40 years ago, but raises questions of how that translates to the electorate – who is participating, who is eligible, and what the outcomes are as a result.
What CCEP has found is that the voting population – those who are eligible and who do vote – does not match up demographically to the makeup of the state. Both people of color and young people are drastically underrepresented in the electorate, and thus in government. Part of the reason CCEP does its research is to better understand why these trends exist, and how to get these demographics engaged and voting.
In an ideal democracy, there would be 100% voter turnout, but currently the U.S. has the lowest voter turnout rate for all established democracies across the world. And that has serious consequences. Policy makers are influenced by their voting base, particularly those who will hold them accountable during elections. When demographics don’t vote, it has a direct effect on what policies lawmakers will pursue, whether because they don’t have the information they need, or for more sinister reasons. Oftentimes, though, lawmakers want more data on their constituents, which is why they will partner with the CCEP.
The study also looks at how California compares to the rest of the nation in terms of demographic shift, and the power the Californians have over the presidential races. The bottom line is that Californian numbers represent a more national trend towards diversification, but illustrate how that doesn’t necessarily translate into better representation in government.
Another major area of research focuses on the youth vote – what kinds of roadblocks exist, in registration and engagement, and the culture around youth vote. There are a number that exist, and many are intentional. Oftentimes, we as a culture don’t want to see young people participate, and certainly don’t actively encourage them to participate. However, after elections, one of the first questions asked is “why don’t young people participate?” It’s easy to blame young people, but in reality, the system and our culture does very little to give any sort of support, encouragement, or education on how to participate. In fact, we often expect young people, when they turn 18, to magically know all the nuts and bolts of voter registration and elections, and also to be motivated to vote.
Even here in California, we have a culture where it is socially acceptable for young people to not participate in the political process. In addition, there are structural barriers that keep young people from voting. Voter registration is tied to an address, when we know that many young people are incredibly mobile, and often move every year or two. So, students at Davis, for example, have to figure out which address to use when they register to vote, which means they may not get their ballot in time, or must remember to re-register every year when they move.
There are also attitudes that discourage young people from voting, and discount their experiences. A commonly held notion is that young people don’t have enough worldly knowledge or experience to vote, and that they should wait until they pay taxes, have stable jobs, and ‘know more,’ before they participate. And this attitude is often internalized by young people – the CCEP often hears how young people don’t feel they know enough, or haven’t experienced enough to feel comfortable voting. This is a form of voter suppression. We have a long history in the U.S. of qualifying the right to vote – making people prove that they are worthy and ‘competent,’ enough to participate. This has taken the form of literacy tests, and poll taxes, but more recently looks like voter I.D. laws, a lack of civics education, and this quiet discouragement of young people.
But even though young people aren’t always voting, that doesn’t mean they aren’t involved. Often, they are volunteering and participating in their local communities, but don’t see how casting a ballot will affect tangible change, particularly when they grew up during a recession, and have witnessed gridlock and government shutdowns. Making the connection between casting a ballot and improving their communities will be key in engaging young people in the political process, as well as acknowledging and valuing the work that young people are already doing in their communities.
In addition to making the connection between voting and policy changes that affect communities, it’s important to impart how impactful every vote is. Particularly in state and local elections, we’ve seen one vote be the deciding factor, and local elections are arguably some of the most important, because they impact how policy will be implemented in a community. Even nationally, CCEP’s research has shown that, in the last presidential election, if more people had voted, we likely would have had a different outcome. As it stands, a little under 60% of eligible voters participated, and only a quarter of them voted for the winning candidate, which was a slightly lower than average year in terms of turnout. Recently, in Alabama, we saw an unexpected candidate win as a result of record levels of turnout by the African American community. Ultimately, every vote matters, even on a scale as large as the national and presidential level.
California is at the forefront of voter engagement policy, having recently enacted online voter registration and voter pre-registration. Online voter registration has changed the way people register to vote, and about 4 million people (about 40% of voters) are using the service – whether to register for the first time, or to re-register. It’s also changing the accuracy of voter information, because the forms don’t allow for incorrect addresses or typos, and there’s no issue with deciphering handwriting.
Despite its positive impacts, there are still groups that are underrepresented in their use of online voter registration – most notably Latinos, low income voters, and foreign born voters. So there is room for improvement in the implementation of the online voter registration system, and outreach to underrepresented communities. Overall, however, the system has been a success in the number of people who are using it, and a number of voter advocacy and registration groups have expressed their appreciation in the ease of registering voters. The Secretary of State is a big proponent of registration efforts, and there were a number of online campaigns – most notably on Facebook – where click through advertisements took eligible voters directly to a registration form. Often, spikes of voter registration occurred around key points in the election, such as super Tuesday, and CCEP infers that people were seeing developments in politics that they did or didn’t like, and were spurred to register to vote. Online voter registration is key in capturing that momentum, because it creates an instant connection, and removes barriers of time and space – it is no longer required to go out and pick up a form, fill it out, and mail or submit it, let alone leave the house.
If you’d like to check out some of the research done by CCEP, their findings are posted on the website: http://ccep.ucdavis.edu. In addition, you can find Dr. Romero’s contact information if you or someone you know is interested in partnering for a study, interning as a researcher, or using some of the data to guide and implement policy.
Sarah Zimmerman, Program Director for Retirement Security for All, joins the podcast this week, to discuss the effects of the #TaxScam with respect to social programs, and her research into retirement security across the state of California.
Last year, in October, Congress passed a budget resolution that, along with $5.8 trillion ($5,800,000,000,000) in spending cuts, included a provision that allowed them to pass their tax resolution with a simple majority in the Senate, rather than a ⅔ majority. Although the cuts weren’t enacted, the resolution gives a pretty clear picture of which programs the GOP is planning to cut, particularly in the wake of the #TaxScam, and subsequent deficit increase.
A number of programs slated for the chopping block include those that benefit seniors, which is Sarah’s research focus. They’re coming after the housing assistance budget, they want to eliminate the legal services budget, and they want to eliminate state grants for emergencies – things like hurricanes and wildfires. In addition, they want to cut more than $1 trillion ($1,000,000,000,000) from Medicaid, even though approximately 6 out of every 10 people in a nursing home depend almost exclusively on it.
Sarah has been looking into what these types of cuts would look like, and how they’d manifest in counties across California. She looked at 10 counties in California that are in districts represented by vulnerable Republicans – meaning they represent a district that Hillary Clinton won. San Joaquin county, for instance, which is in California’s 10th district, represented by Jeff Dehnem, would see a $12 million ($12,000,000) cut to its budget through Trump’s $6 billion ($6,000,000,000) housing cuts. Currently, 9,000 senior headed homes pay more than half of their income in housing costs, and over 2,000 of these households could lose their housing entirely, as a result of these cuts.
Every county has numbers like that. In Yolo, there are 3,000 senior headed households that pay more than half of their income in housing costs. Because senior headed households are often older couples, that means that 6,000 people are vulnerable. In addition, about 1,000 households include a senior who relies on federal subsidies, meaning those households could also lose their housing. Sarah points out that the only way that people are surviving on Social Security benefits is that they have subsides from other government programs, like housing, Medicare, or legal aid. The average Social Security check is about $1,300 per month, which is comparable to what most one bedroom apartments cost to rent in Yolo county. Pulling these programs, and reducing payouts obviously puts a strain on these people and their households.
A strain will also be put on the local economy, through lost government revenue, and loss of consumer purchasing power. A tax break to seniors, that puts more spending money in their pockets, for example, means that money will be spent in their communities and taxed by the local economy. A tax break for a billionaire, on the other hand, doesn’t ensure that kind of local and widespread spending – one person simply can’t be spending little amounts everywhere the same way that a multitude of people in communities across the country can. This is called a multiplier effect: a senior who has an extra dollar in their pocket, and who spends that dollar in a local economy, will have an economic ripple effect, multiplying the value of that dollar.
Another program on the chopping block is SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more colloquially known as food stamps. Here in California, it’s known as CalFresh, and you can learn more by listening to our podcast with Don Saylor (episode 28). SNAP is another program that has a multiplier effect – roughly 1.79%. Moody’s, a fairly conservative economic analysis group, estimates that funding SNAP has a greater positive effect on the economy than tax cuts. SNAP’s multiplier of 1.79% means that for every dollar invested in SNAP, that generates growth in the local economy equivalent to almost double its original worth. For Yolo County, that means about $57 million ($57,000,000).
On an individual level, many people benefit from overlap of these programs. For example, a single parent, making $15 an hour, taking care of an aging parent, might head a household that receives Social Security, Medicare, and SNAP benefits, among others. This means that they can take time off work to take care of that aging parent, or can afford to have a caregiver for when they have to go to work. It means they can afford childcare for young children, so the parent can go to work. If the kids are older, they may be able to take advantage of federal grants and scholarships for college. The family might receive subsidies that allow them to afford their housing, electricity, or even their centralized heating and air, particularly if they live in dangerously hot places like California’s central valley. If these subsidies go away, this family could lose their housing, their heat, their child or elder care, and any hope of attending college. Sarah’s research has found that many families like this are only one or two paychecks away from losing their housing, or their cars, and any type of emergency or medical disaster can put them in financial ruin. It is a precarious and incredibly stressful situation.
One of the most dangerous cuts would be to the legal services budget. Many may not realize how important it is that low-income folks have access to legal services, but Sarah mentions a man who required medicine to control his high blood pressure, but through clerical error, was unable to register for MediCal. He couldn’t leave his home because his other medical supplies had run dangerously low, but he was able to call legal services and within a day they had re-established his MediCal. Without legal aid, he may not have survived, and certainly would not have been able to keep his dignity, yet the GOP budget aims to cut these services entirely.
Part of what we can do to fight back is to continue educating. For a long, and yet somehow still incomplete, detailing of the horrors in the tax bill, check out the Holiday Tax Scam Special, or read the blog. Educate proponents of the bill that a one time bonus of $1,000 won’t last long in the face of health insurance rate hikes, new expenses that were previously covered by social programs, or even new taxes. Make sure when 2019 rolls around, people understand that their taxes have changed because of that bill that was passed at the end of 2017. Keep reminding them. Major Republican donors like the Koch brothers have already pledged millions of dollars to try and put a positive spin on the bill, and they are rolling out an extended PR campaign. We can combat it by spreading information about what this bill actually does, getting out in the streets – like the graduate students Averyl Dietering and Breanne Weber did at UC Davis – and continuing to shame the GOP. Most importantly, the only way to change the situation is to take back the government in November 2018, which means registering and making sure folks are able to vote.
If you’d like to learn more about retirement security, and Sarah’s research, you can check out Retirement Security for All’s website: RSAcalifornia.org. They also have a facebook page, and work closely with CARA – California Alliance for Retired Americans. Sarah suggests getting involved, in part, because the seniors of CARA are so courageous and fun to work with. She’d also like to ask that anyone who has a story of how they benefited from social welfare programs – CHIP, Social Security, MediCal, legal services, or others – share it on the RSA website. On the homepage, there’s a link to share your experience, and Sarah suggests ignoring the prompt and simply telling your story.
If you’d like to get involved with flipping Jeff Denham’s seat in California District 10, Organize Win Legislate’s Director, Tristan Brown, stopped by the pod, and has a number of ways to get involved. Indivisible Manteca is also organizing to wrest power away from Denham in 2018.
On this week’s podcast, Isabel and Andy dig in to some of the details of the GOP Tax Plan (or #TaxScam).
To start, the bill claims it will give savings to Average Everyday Americans. Speaker Ryan and other GOP members have claimed that the bill will save the Average American about $2,000 on their taxes, although the actual number from GOP and non-partisan analysts is $1,182. Many members of the GOP have been touting that it’s an increase of roughly $22 per week (or $88 per month), directly into the pocket of the Average American.
To start, using an average is misleading. Isabel points out that she and Barry Bonds have an average of 381 home runs, she and Apa Sherpa have climbed Mt. Everest an average of 11 times, and that she and Bill Gates have an average net worth of $45 billion (that’s $45,000,000,000). Which is to say, if the tax bill gives a millionaire a $10 million tax break, and someone making $7.25 – minimum wage – nothing, they still have an average savings of $5 million (that’s $5,000,000). In this case, a better metric would be median savings, the same way the census and other agencies use a median to measure things like household income, because averages can be skewed by outliers.
In addition to misrepresenting the savings by using an average instead of a median, the GOP are ignoring two major disasters in health insurance – the repeal of the individual mandate, included in this bill, and the non-renewal of CHIP’s budget. Repealing the individual mandate, which would mean that individuals would no longer be required to have health insurance, will destabilize the healthcare markets, which makes the cost of health insurance increase, and will decrease the pool of healthy, insured people, which will make health insurance overall more expensive. Plus, low-income families will no longer have their children’s health insurance covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which, for a family of four with two children on CHIP, could mean an increase of anywhere from $400 to $600 per month. It really cuts into the $88 per month in savings they’re supposed to be getting.
Thankfully, despite all the pro-#TaxScam propaganda, the bill polls around 30%, and many who are currently in favor of the bill do not realize that, especially if they live in California, their taxes are actually more likely to increase as a result of the provision that removes deductions for state and local taxes (SALT). SALT primarily helps people who live in high tax states, by allowing them to deduct the taxes they pay at the local or state levels from their federal taxes, to avoid paying those taxes twice. People in states like New York, California, and New Jersey in particular are set to lose large deductions as a result of this repeal.
Another talking point being touted is the idea that reducing taxes on the wealthiest Americans will result in job growth and reinvestment in the economy – the Trickle Down Economics theory, which is a myth. The past three presidents who implemented trickle down or deregulation policies have either crashed, stagflated, or recessed the economy. A lack of regulation doesn’t provide for more growth, it paves the way for speculation and practices that prey on the poor, which result in bubbles and subsequent bursts. The U.S. has a long history of speculation leading to crashes, from speculation in the 1800s around gold and silver, to speculation and deregulation in stocks in the 1920s, to speculation and deregulation in 2008 around housing – none of which ended well for the Average American. Even today, we’re seeing a similar pattern with predatory and speculative auto loans, not unlike the housing loans and mortgages that were common prior to 2008, and a rental market exploding with little to no protection for consumers and renters. This type of deregulation, tax cuts, and invitation of speculation has resulted in recessions and crashes, and that means money being taken out of workers’ pockets.
In addition, CEOs have flat out denied the claims that they will reinvest in the economy, job training, or wages. They will buy back stocks and pay greater dividends, which doesn’t help the Average American, but rather helps stockholders and company executives. Wells Fargo’s CEO in particular has been on the record stating that his company will invest back in the company so that they produce greater profits and dividends every quarter. Well Fargo is also being used to put a positive spin on the bill, since they announced they will be raising employees wages to $15 an hour in the coming year. While the GOP and right wing media have touted this as an effect of the #TaxScam, they ignore that Wells Fargo had announced this wage hike back in September, before the tax bill had even been drafted. So, Wells Fargo had the means to pay its workers $15 an hour before its taxes were cut, but yet the tax bill will benefit them to the tune of $3.7 billion (that’s $3,700,000,000), while their CEO makes about $19 million (that’s $19,000,000). The company has promised to donate $400 million to charity as a result of the windfall, but that’s less than 2% of its total gains, even combined with the pay increases for workers.
Other companies like AT&T have promised to give all employees a $1,000 bonus because of the bill, but that’s only a one time thing. Meanwhile, the new tax laws that apply to corporations have no sunset date, meaning they’ll never expire unless the laws are changed, while individuals will see their tax deductions disappear in 2027. The bonus is clearly aimed at making the tax bill more popular – rather than investing in American workers by giving them a 5% raise every year to keep up with the cost of inflation, creating pensions and 401(k) matching programs, or expanding health insurance benefits, they are choosing to give a one time bonus of a measly $1,000.
Another reason companies are raising the wages to $15 and giving bonuses is to draw support from the Fight for $15 movement, but they and others are already pivoting. Previous guests Sarah Zimmerman (Podcast 11) and Sean Raycraft (Podcast 5) have talked about how the Fight for $15 movement is actually the Fight for $15 and a union. Thankfully, the movement and others have already pivoted. They’ve achieved their $15 minimum wage ($31,200 per year), but now they’re fighting for the right to unionize at these companies, because they realize that while the $1,000 bonus may be popular, it doesn’t last the same way wage increases, health benefits, and pensions do.
So although certain companies may give out slightly higher bonuses this year, the Average American will actually see a tax increase. The median household income across the country is $59,000 per year, with the median in Yolo around $54,000. Non partisan organizations have estimated that households earning below $70,000 per year will see their taxes increase – that’s about 24 million people – by as much as $800 per year. So, not only will that one time payment of $1,000 per year be eaten up for many by $800 in new taxes, they’ll have to shoulder the burden of those taxes in subsequent years, without the benefit of that $1,000 bonus.
The GOP doesn’t seem to believe this, though, in part because they don’t seem to understand what the Average American is. In a tweet, John Cornyn suggested that a married couple earning $100,000 per year via $60,000 in wages, $20,000 in non-corporate business income, and $15,000 in business income would see their taxes decrease. This model of income is not typical, and that the figures are much higher than the Average American earns (keeping in mind that the median income is $59,000, not $100,000). In fact, this model of income is more in line with how lobbyists and political donors make money – they earn salaries, have bonuses or stock market gains as non-corporate income, and have ‘side’ businesses like real estate. Looking at Senator Cornyn’s tweet, it appears that they took this model of income, slashed a few zeroes off the end, and went “this looks about right.” Ultimately, this says a lot about who is behind this bill and who it’s intended to benefit.
Its beneficiaries, in addition to the corporations, include Congress. Bob Corker, for example, is now able to pass almost a third of his $69 million ($69,000,000) net worth on to his children, tax free, and will be able to take advantage of a new real estate loophole. Corker earns around $7 million per year in revenue from his real estate enterprise, which is considered “pass through” income, as it passes through his personal tax returns (in this case, people are corporations, friends). In the new bill, pass through income will only be taxed at 20%, so Senator Corker’s $7 million ($7,000,000) per year, and Donald Trump’s $68 million ($68,000,000) per year, will be taxed at lower rates than people who make $75,000 per year. Corker is a notorious deficit hawk, and has gone on record saying that he will not vote for any bill that raises the deficit – even by a penny. But, after the real estate loophole was introduced to the bill (penciled in may be a more accurate term), he switched his vote.
Ultimately this #TaxScam penalizes the poor to benefit the rich, handing the poor a death sentence and the middle class a bill. And the intent to harm is clear, as Senator Ted Cruz points out while pontificating about the merits of the bill. The bill repeals tax deductions for state and local taxes (SALT), which will particularly harm residents of California, New York, New Jersey, and other high tax, left-leaning states. Cruz says “the only people whose taxes are going up are the really rich. The middle class, their taxes are all going down; the working class, their taxes are going down; every taxpayer, their taxes are going down. Except rich people, in Manhattan and San Francisco, some of them, their taxes may go up.” A few things in this statement are demonstrably false. First, as we mentioned previously, those making less than $70,000 per year are likely to see an increase in their taxes. Second, the implication that everywhere in New York is like Manhattan or everywhere in California is like San Francisco does a disservice to the diversity of states, and plays into the false narrative that all New Yorkers or Californians are “coastal elites.” Third, the idea that everyone in Manhattan and San Francisco is rich is laughable. What he is right about is that people in Manhattan and San Francisco will see their taxes go up, but it won’t be rich people in those cities, and it won’t be confined to the cities. Poor and working class people across these states will feel the blow of SALT repeal, which is clearly intended to harm states with high taxes that tend to vote blue. It is a partisan move, with obvious intent to harm, and it may be a death sentence for many struggling citizens in high tax states.
But the intentional harm doesn’t end at states that vote blue, it’s also piled on to Puerto Rico, which is slapped with new taxes even in the midst of recovery from a national disaster. Despite the majority of Puerto Ricans being without power, without water, and being wholly dependent on charitable organizations – rather than their own government – for aid, and despite Puerto Rico’s debt crisis prior to the hurricane, the GOP have opted to raise taxes on the vulnerable island’s residents.
Vulnerable kids are in the line of fire, as well, since Congress has failed to re-authorize a budget for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides 9 million children with health insurance. This means funding will run out in 2018, and parents will either be forced to pay higher costs to have their children insured, or leave their children uninsured. One father, who works as a layer for a non-profit, but doesn’t make enough money to insure his two children, will see an increase of $600 per month if he adds them to his plan. Even if he were an Average American who got a tax break of $1,182 per year, that would be eaten up within two months by his increased health care costs.
The worst part about CHIP is that Congress has known that funding will run out, and has actively not made reauthorization a priority. Congress sets its own deadlines for its budgets, and has known since April of 2015 that CHIP will expire in September of 2017. They have known for more than two years, and they have done nothing. And time is running out. CHIP has been funded through the end of 2017, but many states have already run out of funding. To compensate, states with excess or larger budgets, like California, have donated money to other states in an effort to keep these programs running until at least the end of 2017. But that creates a deficit for these generous states, and means that they too will be shutting down their CHIPs come January 31, 2018. 16 states have plans to either completely cut or begin phasing out children’s health insurance by January 31st: California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Florida, Virginia, D.C., Delaware, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Together these states represent 5 million of the 9 million kids on CHIP (that’s 5,000,000 of the 9,000,000 children), so that’s 5 million kids that will be without health insurance starting on January 31st.
States are trying to mitigate the problem. Many are trying to get kids, particularly very sick kids, on to Medicaid, but it’s not a process that happens overnight, and states are scrambling. Some states are so overwhelmed they are simply shutting their programs’ doors. Notices began to go out on December 15th, and 9 million families will spend their holidays wondering how they will cover the costs of their children’s medical care in the coming years.
For perspective, the #TaxScam adds $1.5 trillion ($1,500,000,000,000) to the deficit. $1.5 trillion could fund CHIP, in its current form, for 915 years. Ultimately, this is a question of priorities, and since the deficit doesn’t seem to matter any more, where the GOP chose to spend the money – in tax cuts for billionaires – is a reflection of their priorities.
Senator Angus King, on the Senate floor, summed it up nicely: “We don’t know anything now that we didn’t know in the middle of September or in August – that we could have passed this program, but we just blew right by it. Maybe it’s because none of our kids are in this program. I’d venture to say that if the children of the members of the United States Senate were in the CHIP program, we would have met that deadline. But we didn’t.” The failure to reauthorize CHIP, in conjunction with the clear and direct benefit to members of Congress, is a succinct summary of the priorities of this bill.
Priorities that include repealing Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act. While the bill isn’t a complete repeal, like President Trump is touting, it does repeal the individual mandate, which requires every person to have health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) a non-partisan government agency that scores bills, estimates that 13 million people (13,000,000) could lose their health insurance as a result of this repeal. Additionally senators who had been working on a bipartisan effort to stabilize the healthcare markets, which would lower costs for everyone, came out immediately after the tax bill passed to say that their legislation had been permanently tabled and would never see the floor, much less a vote. Rather than support these attempts, the tax bill will destabilized markets, which will make prices for health insurance skyrocket. The previously mentioned lawyer, whose children are on CHIP, who will pay $600 per month if he adds them to his plan when CHIP runs out of money, could see that $600 turn into $800 or $1,200, or more as a result of destabilized markets.
Insurance companies and patients are, uniquely, on the same side in this fight. Insurance companies want the individual mandate because it helps them offset costs. Healthy people are cheaper to insure than not healthy people, and when they all pay into one pot of money, it helps even things out. Patients, in turn, want this for more or less the same reason: healthy people paying into the healthcare market brings down costs for everyone, because there’s less volatility – companies know how many people will be buying insurance (everyone), at what rates, and can estimate how many people will be sick or hurt and need to take money out. When companies know these things, they don’t need to inflate rates, because they can calculate more or less exactly how they’re going to cover their costs and meet their bottom line. When these things are uncertain, it means companies will charge more, in an effort to ensure that they don’t lose money.
This is a lose-lose for patients and insurance companies, but a win for a GOP that hates Obamacare. Many young, healthy people will see it as a win, as well, forgetting that tragedy can strike at any time, and that the purpose of health insurance is a safeguard against bankruptcy at the hands of a medical emergency.
The bill also includes a handful of horrific riders. Congressional bills normally carry benign so-called “riders,” but the #TaxScam has a few particularly troubling riders. The first is a provision that allows for drilling in Alaskan wildlife refuges – the Arctic Wildlife Refuge specifically. It was something Senator Murkowski desperately wanted, and is touting as a job creating provision, despite the fact that drilling isn’t expected to begin for another 10 years – meaning jobs won’t be created for another 10 years. Not to mention, ‘clean energy’ has been consistently creating more and more jobs, while coal, oil, and other crude energy sources have been in steady decline for decades. While this might create jobs for the lawyers fighting the suits against this drilling, it doesn’t seem like it will create many blue collar jobs, and certainly not in the near future. More importantly, this opens a door for drilling and sectioning off other wildlife refuges and parks across the country. The Trump administration has already reduced the size of Bears Ears park in Utah, citing that the government shouldn’t own that much land.
Another particularly unfortunate rider in the bill particularly for those with uteruses, is an attempt to define life at conception. The bill changes the language in the tax code around personhood, and defines the “unborn child” – the fetus – as a legal entity, and equates it with an actual child. The idea was that parents could begin saving for a child’s college expenses – in a 529 college savings fund – at the moment of conception. This is a preposterous idea for a number of reasons, not the least of which that most people don’t know the instant they’re pregnant. Adding 9 months of savings (at most, but more likely 6 months) on to a college savings fund wouldn’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, especially considering cuts to higher education and subsequent tuition increases – to say nothing of how privileged parents must be in order to have enough money to save for college and have the knowledge to open a 529 fund. This change in definition is a thinly veiled attempt to define personhood at conception, and the first step in classifying abortion, or even a miscarriage, as murder.
Looking forward, our deficit will be growing by $1.5 trillion ($1,500,000,000,000), which adds to our current $25 trillion ($25,000,000,000,000) deficit. The GOP claims that this addition will be offset by growth, but the majority of economists disagree that it’s even possible. The bill is fiscally irresponsible, but the GOP has already made it clear that they’re looking to make cuts to ‘entitlement’ programs as a way to offset the added deficit. After the passage of the #TaxScam, the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Kevin Brady, said “we’re going to have to, over time, make tough decisions to restrain spending.” They wouldn’t have to do that if they hadn’t passed a $1.5 trillion dollar deficit increase. Some of the programs in the crosshairs include those that help the most vulnerable: Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, legal aid, and they may never reauthorize funding for CHIP, citing a need to cut costs. Student loan forgiveness programs are already in danger; a bill in the House would eliminate the program that allows students loans to be forgiven in exchange for ten years of government service, something many professionals – like veterinarians or social workers – depend on.
There are enough small things in this bill that every single person will be affected by it in one way or another. Many people will be devastated by it. Going forward, we must mitigate the harm, educate our friends and neighbors, and fight like hell to wrest power away from the GOP in 2018.