To anyone who insists there's no such thing as an honest Republican, I present you with Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. Cole went on CNBC the other day to confess that he doesn't know much about the economics of the massive tax overhaul he's about to vote for – and that what little he does understand, he doesn't much like. But he said he understands the most important thing is to not cross his tribe.
"In the end I'm going to trust the people who are philosophically aligned with me," Cole told the cable business channel, in the same breath with which he praised the brilliance of House Speaker Paul Ryan – whose college days were spent tapping a keg and planning how to take away poor people's health care. He trusts these people – despite his sense that the numbers from the tax scheme, which Republicans are all but certain to ram through Congress this week, don't add up.
"It just seems wrong," the congressman said of the legislation, which increases the federal deficit by $1.4 trillion largely to benefit large corporations that are already reaping record profits (and not using those profits to hire middle-class workers). "We'd be better off if there were more populist victories in there."
Indeed. The American people seem to understand the GOP tax scam much better than many of the 275 or so souls who are about to send it to President Trump for his signature. There's mounting evidence that the tax bill – which screws over the poor and delivers legislative filet mignon to the rich, with the middle class left to gnaw on the gristle – would be the most unpopular major new law in several generations.
There's a reason the tax bill is so unpopular. It's a terrible idea – arguably, if approved, the worst law to be enacted on Capitol Hill since the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which allowed the return of captured escaped slaves up North to their whip-cracking masters down South. I'd argue that it's worse, for example, than the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that escalated the Vietnam War in 1964 – because at least then senators honestly trusted a White House that was bamboozling them about the underlying facts. Here, House and Senate Republicans know exactly what they're doing.
True, some of the worst and most punitive measures in the original proposals – economically crippling grad students, for example – were either eliminated or toned down in the conference of House and Senate GOP negotiators. That only means it could have been worse, but what's left is pretty horrible. The final measure still rewards America's richest families by slashing their estate taxes, cuts a break to big corporations like Apple that stashed trillions of dollars offshore, and leaves largely untouched the tax code provisions that allow billionaire hedge-fund managers to pay a lower rate than their executive assistants. It also will cause insurance rates for everyday folks to rise by an estimated 10 percent by taking 13 million Americans out of the system, whacks America's poorest families with a $19 billion hit, socks it to struggling Puerto Rico for no good reason, and offers zero protection to true middle-class families from significant tax hikes in 2025 and beyond. And that's the kinder, gentler version of this bill.
And here's the absolute worst part. At the very last moment, the Republican negotiators stuck in a provision that benefits a narrow class of wealthy real-estate executives that includes both the one wavering swing vote that could have torpedoed the legislation – retiring Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who voted "no" in the initial go-round – and, lo and behold, the GOP president of the United States, Donald Trump. As reported by the International Business Times, the "compromise" suddenly included a 20 percent discount for a certain type of lucrative real-estate LLC that employs very few people, a category that includes Trump and Corker's business models.
Corker immediately flip-flopped in support of the tax scam. Indeed, JFK should come back to life and write a sequel to his famous (albeit ghostwritten) 1957 book Profiles in Courage, titled Profiles in Cowardice – chronicling the many Republicans, like Oklahoma's Cole, who know this is a bad bill but are too terrified of banishment from their tribe to do something. At the head of the list is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a career corporate shill who was insanely hailed by the New York Times as "a longtime champion of the working class" by holding out for a $25-a-month child-care credit, throwing pennies into a billionaire stampede. Trump, for all his many hundreds of lies, might have been onto something with his famous "Little Marco" dig, since Rubio came up very, very small on this one.
That's because Rubio, Corker, Cole, and the rest have reached the point where they know how to listen only to one incredibly narrow sliver of America – K Street lobbyists who 1) told them the GOP 115th Congress had to pass something, with zero regard to whatever that bill actually does; 2) offered their services to write the bill, to the benefit of their fabulously rich clients; and, most important, 3) threatened along with their donor pals to withhold 2018 contributions without passage of the bill – a world devoid of cash that Republican lawmakers simply cannot comprehend.
In addition to the lobbyists, though, Congress is also getting played by Trump, who also desperately needs to sign a bill and who is clearly planning to touch off a major constitutional crisis by firing or otherwise crippling special counsel Robert Mueller the very second this measure hits his desk and lawmakers leave Washington for the holidays. That will forever label these clueless, cowardly, and immoral legislators as the folks who ignored a rogue president just long enough to funnel more money to their billionaire donors. That's the moment that the band on this politically doomed Titanic needs to strike up "Nearer My God to Thee." Let's just hope the ship of functioning American democracy stays afloat until November 2018, which can't come soon enough to send even more of these greedy cowards into an early retirement.