If the 2016 presidential election showed us anything about American constituents, it is that they generally prioritize issues that directly affect their lives over everything else. Those who knew that they would be hurt by Hillary Clinton’s policies were willing to take a chance that Donald Trump would match his populist rhetoric during the campaign, despite how unappealing he was in other areas. However, even as Trump has enacted several policies that contradict his promises and are clearly adverse to the will of the vast majority of Americans, Democrats have failed effectively expose negative impact from the moves that Trump has made. Instead, most of the focus has continued to be on issues such as the Russia investigation, which has been proven repeatedly to be of secondary concern to Americans. Now, the Trump Administration has given the Democrats another opportunity to reveal the gross motivations behind its legislation. Whether or not the Democrats can take advantage could decide who will win the next presidential election.
Donald Trump labeled his new tax plan as “an incredible Christmas gift for hard-working Americans.” If by “hard-working Americans” he means corporations and the very top of the socio-economic hierarchy, then his statement certainly holds true. The passage of the tax plan marks the first significant legislative achievement for the Trump Administration, but it will come at the expense of middle and lower income earners. While the efforts of the “resistance” by the Democratic party was not enough to prevent the tax bill from being put into law, the disastrous effects that the bill is sure to have on most Americans presents a chance for the Democrats to shift political power in Washington D.C.
Trump has branded his tax overhaul as a great plan for the middle class and has even called it “the biggest tax cut in U.S. history.” Each of these claims are objectively false. The bill is estimated to cut between $150 billion and $220 billion each year, which is less in inflation-adjusted dollars as the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. Depending on the estimation of cuts under Trump’s bill, the amount of cuts may also fall behind the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 and the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981.
The bill itself implements a regressive tax system, which benefits the wealthy but hurts the middle class. This economic philosophy has been prominent in the Republican Party since the days of the Reagan Administration. According to the Tax policy center, 80% of the plan’s net tax cuts would go to the top 1 percent. The corporate tax rate will also be cut from 35% to 21%. The lack of federal income that will result from such cuts will be made up by various provisions that will harm middle and lower class citizens. For example, the bill puts a cap on state and local tax deductions, which impacts middle and lower class citizens the most. Sales and property taxes, which are 2 of the 3 largest sources of state and local revenue, fall hardest on lower income earners as a share of income, therefore capping state and local deductions will be devastating for these citizens. Also, to balance the lack of income coming from high-income earners, state governments are likely to cut funding for public services. The bill also repeals the personal exemption, which impacts lower class citizens much more because it is a greater share of their income, and the estate tax, which only affects 0.002 of American households and only those that are very wealthy.
Regardless of how the White House brands the bill, this tax plan is a profound assault on middle and lower class citizens. The cutting of taxes for the wealthy while simultaneously repealing tax credits and deductions that are crucial for many Americans is a continuation of the class warfare that Republicans have waged for decades. However, the public appears to be cognizant of the damage that looms from this tax plan. For example, an NBC/Wall St Journal poll found that less than 25% of people think the plan is a good idea.
With public opinion on their side, the key question now is how the Democrats will respond. While the Republicans do their victory lap over implementing their latest morally reprehensible piece of legislation, the Democrats must determine how to expose the harmful effects the bill will have. Working class Americans will undoubtedly be crushed by this bill and the democrats must exploit this. Until this point, Trump had yet to enact any major pieces of legislation and was taking credit for the positive effects of many of the policies implemented by Obama (e.g. low unemployment, job creation). Now Americans will truly see the negative effects of Trump’s policies. Most polls show that the Democrats are on the right side of not only tax reform, but many other policy issues. However, due to poor campaign strategy, the Democrats have continued to lose elections in recent years. If the Democrats want to win in 2018 and beyond, rather than continue to focus on the Russia investigation, they need to campaign on issues that actually affect people’s lives. This disastrous tax bill provides a perfect opportunity to do so.