On taxes, Republicans prioritize corporations over people

People pass the New York Stock Exchange, June 24, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Richard Drew/AP)
People pass the New York Stock Exchange, June 24, 2016 in New York, N.Y.

One of the most memorable lines of the 2012 presidential campaign came when Mitt Romney lectured an Iowa voter, "Corporations are people, my friend." Several years later, Romney's Republican Party seems quite eager to help those "people" -- even at the expense of actual people.

The headline on today's New York Times report is both brutal and accurate: "Republican Tax Plans Put Corporations Over People."

There are tough choices at the heart of the Republican tax bills speeding through Congress, and they make clear what the party values most in economic policy right now: deep and lasting tax cuts for corporations. [...]The version of the bill moving through the Senate Finance Committee chooses to give peace of mind to corporate executives planning their long-term investments. That comes at the expense of added anxiety for individual taxpayers, particularly those in the middle class, who could face stiff tax increases on Jan. 1, 2026.

At issue are complex procedural hurdles that are making it more difficult for Republicans to pass their massive and unpopular tax plan. Long story short, in order for the GOP proposal to permanently lower taxes, it has to be deficit neutral after 10 years.

To that end, GOP lawmakers have scrapped all kinds of popular deductions, intend to redirect money from health care coverage to tax breaks, and have written their plan in such a way as to allow many tax cuts for individuals to expire.

They've carefully protected tax cuts for corporations, however. In other words, the Republican plan in a nutshell includes tax increases on millions in the middle class, temporary tax breaks for others, and permanent tax breaks for Big Business. This is true in both the House and Senate versions.

Asked for an explanation, GOP lawmakers already have a response: their entire plan is built on a massive budget gimmick.

That's not my criticism, that's their defense. Slate had a good piece on this yesterday:

Republicans' most honest explanation for sunsetting those cuts is that they're merely a massive budget gimmick. They argue that there's no way a future Congress would allow the cuts to expire. Such gimmicks, then, mask the true cost of the bill, which creates a problem with some of the budget hawks in the Republican caucus.When I asked one such senator, Arizona's Jeff Flake, if the sunsets bothered him, he said no, "so long as we actually sunset them.""Will we actually sunset [them]? Probably not," he continued. "I do have concerns about that, and I'm trying to address it." Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, another deficit hawk, is also still undecided, and the sunset gimmick is not likely to help. The good news for leaders, though, is that another hawk, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, didn't seem to care about this development. Asked if he was bothered by this gimmick, Corker replied, "Not really."

We're dealing with a dynamic in which Republicans know their numbers don't add up, so they've created a rather outrageous gimmick intended to make their irresponsible plan appear less ridiculous. As part of the scheme, they know millions of Americans would see their tax cuts disappear, but these GOP lawmakers are counting on a future Congress to prevent that from happening.

The result is a bizarre pitch from congressional Republicans to the American public: "We're giving permanent tax breaks to corporations, and temporary tax breaks to some of you, but don't worry, it's an elaborate trick to hide the fact that we're going to increase the deficit that we only occasionally pretend to care about."

Some GOP officials aren't making much of an effort to hide any of this, and they're working from the assumption that voters either won't know or won't care.