It’s been quite a week, hasn’t it?
I submitted my final grades for the spring semester on Monday and I’ve been able to turn to other office tasks, but also to my yard and garden. A pair of Eastern Phoebes are building a nest outside my kitchen window so I signed up with the Cornell Ornithology Lab to become a certified “Nest Watch” participant. My lettuce and kale and peas are coming along and we’ve been feasting on fresh asparagus and rhubarb. Yesterday I planted seeds for basil, parsley, and cilantro and put in some tomato, broccoli, and pepper seedlings. As my husband and I take late-evening walks around town, the air is filled with the scent of lilacs.
That’s not what you were thinking I was going to say, was it?
Even as I settled into my summer routine, I haven’t been able to entirely resist rubber-necking at the multi-car pile-up at the White House this week. Every day seemed to start or end with some new collision and the people that share most of my political outlook seemed to survey the wreckage with glee. I’m not going to summarize what happened. Anyone who has been awake this week knows at least the police-blotter version.
Meanwhile, I’ve been watching you valiantly try to turn your constituents’ gazes away from the carnage and get us to watch videos of you sitting in committee meetings. That hasn’t been easy, has it?
But because I’m feeling well-rested (no more evenings prepping lectures or grading papers!) and well-fed (steamed asparagus with butter and sesame seeds! rhubarb pie!) and well-entertained (Eastern Phoebes nesting on the side porch and a new Netflix series based on Anne of Green Gables!), I actually sat down this morning and watched some of the footage of the Committee on Ways and Means talking about tax reform that you were advertising on your facebook page. You’re welcome.
The committee footage was 3 hours and 46 minutes long. Although I like to consider myself an engaged citizen, I wasn’t willing to spend my entire Sunday morning watching this footage. I opted instead to watch the opening statements of the two committee chairs and then sample some snippets of what the conversation was like.
Here’s what I gleaned:
We’re still in the middle of the same debate that we’ve been having since the 1980s. If we cut taxes for businesses and wealthy people, does the money that they don’t have to spend on taxes lead them to create more jobs and thus help everyone? Or, does cutting taxes for businesses and wealthy people just create more income inequality as the rich get richer, with the benefits not actually trickling down?
In his opening remarks, Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) asserts that cutting taxes for businesses will help the economy. He stresses that he’s talking about “small” businesses (constituents of his who own a “Mr. Rooter” plumbing franchise). Ranking member Rich Neal (D-MA) countered by emphasizing the burden that taxes are to middle-class Americans and advocating for policies that focus not on businesses, but on consumers.
It’s an old debate. Cutting taxes is always popular. Everybody hates taxes (except, perhaps, real liberals like myself who claim at least that we’ll cheerfully pay taxes in exchange for well-paid public school teachers, scientific research, and even art and music). But where to cut? The two sides of the argument seem to be: 1) Cut the taxes of businesses and they will expand and spur economic growth; 2) Cut the taxes of consumers and they will spend more and spur economic growth.
I’m neither an economist nor a historian and this seems like an issue about which there is a lot of debate and not a lot of clarity. I tried to do a little research (confession: I googled, “does supply-side economics work?”), but the answers were inconclusive. Whether one thinks supply-side economics works seems to depend on one’s starting assumptions and political allegiances. (Though I suppose the causation could run the other way, too: your political allegiances are determined by what you think about tax policy.)
If one tends to favor free-market solutions to economic problems and liked the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, then one is likely to think that cutting taxes at the top is a good idea. If one is comfortable with the government taking a stronger role in shaping society and liked the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, then one probably thinks that cutting taxes at the top doesn’t work. It was hard to find an independent and neutral source to help me sort out my thinking on this question.
One thing that worries me, regardless, about cutting corporate taxes and the tax rates for people at the upper end of the income spectrum is that these are the entities and people who already have the most political influence.
Super PACs (organizations that can run advertising in support of political causes and don’t have to disclose their sources of funding) are a hugely influential force in American politics right now. And people and corporations with lots of money can and do use that money to support Super PACs. When candidates for office are helped with their election campaigns by the people and corporations who benefit from tax cuts, it does make me suspicious of those tax cuts. I can’t be confident that we are making tax decisions based on cool-headed economic analysis and not as a quid pro quo.
I have heard some things (that I don’t understand very well yet) about high corporate tax rates in the US causing companies to seek tax shelters in other countries and foreign banks, thus keeping the US government from actually collecting taxes from US companies. I’m all for doing something about that problem if we can. Representative Neal mentioned something about “deemed repatriation.” It sounds like a complicated but necessary conversation.
So what do I want to say to you, Tom?
I ask that, if you’re going to pursue tax cuts (again, always a popular cause), you emphasize cuts for small businesses and middle-income Americans and that you speak against the inevitable drift of policy toward benefiting large corporations and people with more wealth. From what I can see in my community, more cash for people to spend on health care, local shopping, and education would be a help right now.
Keep attending those committee meetings and doing your job even if the executive branch is setting out the emergency flares and trying to redirect traffic around the massive jam. At least one constituent is trying to pay attention.
I can’t promise that I won’t ask you about President Trump sometime soon, but for this week I’ll keep chugging along with you on the tax-policy highway (if it’s an interstate highway, funded of course by federal tax dollars).
Your devoted constituent,