The Senate voted Thursday to massively increase income inequality in the United States by using the power of the federal government to redistribute wealth upward. By a narrow 51-49 vote, the chamber backed a budget measure that clears the way for Republicans to enact epic tax cuts for corporate elites, mega-millionaires and billionaires.
How epic? “At a time of massive income inequality, this budget provides $1.9 trillion in tax breaks for the top 1 percent,” argued Senator Bernie Sanders. “This is not a bad budget bill, it is a horrific budget bill.”
Sanders was not alone in his assessment. As the Los Angeles Times noted, Senate Republicans approved massive deficits in order “to pay for Trump’s tax cuts.”
The horrible budget bill—which allows for the implementation of sweeping tax cuts for the rich without bipartisan support and without controls on the use of deficits to fund those tax cuts—won only the votes of Republicans.
Forty-six Democrats, two independents who caucus with the Democrats (Sanders and Maine Senator Angus King), and one Republican (Kentucky’s Rand Paul, who has objected to Pentagon-spending hikes) voted no.
One of the budget’s most ardent foes, Wisconsin Democrat Senator Tammy Baldwin, argues that
This budget resolution paves the way for a partisan tax proposal that favors big corporations and gives a majority of the tax breaks to the wealthiest 1 percent. I just don’t think it’s right to make Wisconsin’s hardworking middle class families pay for it by blowing a hole in the deficit and cutting Medicare and Medicaid.
Sanders and Baldwin exposed the true agenda of the Trump administration and congressional Republicans with a pair of amendments that clarified the tax and deficit issues.
The Sanders amendment sought to prevent tax cuts for the top 1 percent of Americans, including billionaire campaign donors such as David and Charles Koch, whose enthusiasm for the Trump administration’s “tax reform” schemes was summed up by a Boston Globe headline that read: “The Koch brothers (and their friends) want President Trump’s tax cut. Very badly.” Tim Phillips, the president of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity cabal, announced that the push for the tax cut is “the most significant federal effort we’ve ever taken on.”
That significance is measured not just in benefits to the Koch brothers and their billionaire friends but also in cuts to programs that serve the great mass of Americans. To avert the shift of money to the Kochs, Sanders proposed a simple standard that would have directed tax cuts that are outlined in any reform package to the 99 percent of Americans who are neither mega-millionaires nor billionaires.
Sanders, the ranking Democratic Caucus member on the Senate Budget Committee, explained that
It’s not a radical idea to suggest that at a time of massive income and wealth inequality, when the people on top are doing unbelievably well, at a time when the middle class is shrinking, now is not the time to provide hundreds of billion of dollars of tax breaks to the very wealthiest families in this country.
Forty-four Democrats, Maine independent Angus King, and Sanders backed the amendment. But it was blocked by 51 Republicans and one Democrat: North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp. (Though Heitkamp opposed the overall budget measure, her vote on the amendment broke faith not merely with her fellow Senate Democrats but also with the historic populist tradition of the Nonpartisan League that gave its name to her home state’s Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party.)
Baldwin, a Wisconsinite who traces her politics to another populist movement of the upper Midwest (that of the Wisconsin progressives who supported Senator Robert M. La Follette’s battles against wealth and privilege), proposed an amendment that focused on the fiscal irresponsibility of the GOP scheme. She sought to reinstate a Senate rule that would effectively prevent Republicans from increasing the deficit in order to fund tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. Proponents of sound budgeting hailed the Wisconsinite’s proposal, with Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Budget, declaring that
The amendment offered by Senator Baldwin would restore a shield to prevent reconciliation from being used to add to the debt. It is fiscal common sense and important especially now as lawmakers confront growing debt.
Fiscal common sense won the votes of 47 Democrats and independents who caucus with the Democrats. But 51 Republican votes blocked the Baldwin amendment.
So it was that the Senate voted to advance a Trump-backed, Koch-promoted “tax reform” agenda that is is intended not only to make the rich richer but also to pay for this transfer of wealth by robbing from the rest of us and by creating deficits that will weaken the ability of the federal government to function and that will burden working-class taxpayers for decades to come.
This is, as Sanders says “Robin Hood in reverse” budgeting. But it does not stop there. If the Trump-GOP plan is enacted, generations of working families will continue to be robbed, year and year, in order to keep taxes low for the Koch brothers and the billionaire class.