FactPower: Facts, figures, and talking points for Resistance activists.
Call to Action: GOP Tax Scam and Healthcare Ripoff
(Updated Dec 23, 5:18 PM Eastern)
The bill is now law. Congress voted nearly unanimously to waive the automatic budget cuts to Medicare and other programs under PAYGO. So we're going to have a $1.5 trillion deficit. Of course the next step is to heal this deficit by destroying Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. More warfare to come. Stay tuned.
UPDATE Wed/Thurs: Well, we lost, and I think it's because our resistance movement is young and inexperienced. We lack the discipline of the Tea Party movement, for instance. Take a look at the graph at the right. It gives some indication of our national activist response (over mostly 20 states). Although this is only one small piece of the entire national jigsaw puzzle, it still reflects how strongly we are fighting on a given day -- from the number of times this Call to Action is downloaded from FactPower's server.
Here's what we can learn from this graph: The resistance movement didn't really ramp up until the day before and the day of the Senate vote, December 1. Our groundswell in activity seemed to be reactive rather than proactive. We were were responding negatively to the senators' announced positions in support of the bill, rather than laying the groundwork ahead of their announced positions. By the time we acted, senators couldn't easily retract or reverse their positions. Had we put in the same effort much earlier, we might have persuaded two or three more GOP senators to oppose the bill, and we might have ultimately won.
But we lost the senate vote. And after that, everything went downhill. The tax war wasn't over, but our national response dropped to a baseline of 100-200 downloads per day, maybe 5% of our peak effort on December 1. This was despite the fact that we were given a second chance with Sen. McCain's declining health. (We would have needed only 2 break-away senators, not three.) Unfortunately our activist community does not respond as well to opportunity as to crisis. Despite our best efforts here at FactPower, we could not rally any greater a response. With the pressure falling off, Republicans could all feel a bit more comfortable voting for the bill -- and they all did, except for McCain, who was in Arizona.
In my opinion, this was a failure of leadership in our movement (and I am guilty myself, at a local level). Our activist groups need to discuss delegation of responsibilities and teach activism techniques (e.g. how to call a member of Congress, how to tweet, etc.). We need to ensure that our resources are coordinated to address all needs, so that activists don't all address the most dramatic issue while leaving other issues neglected. There's clearly work to be done, and our failure in this battle shows that.
Having said that, we can certainly pat ourselves on the back that our efforts made the bill incrementally less horrible. We should celebrate that, if nothing else. These concessions were significant and would not have occurred without our community raising the ruckus we did:
The graduate student tax was taken out.
Up to $10k in SALT deductions were restored.
The medical deduction was preserved and even augmented for two years.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW:
The bill has been passed by both houses and has gone to the president. The president is expected to sign the bill on January 3. The reason he is waiting until January is PAYGO (The 2010 Pay As You Go Act), which requires automatic sequestration of funding when the deficit is exploded. This is the Stage 2 we've been screaming and pounding the table about here at FactPower. VOX has a great primer on PAYGO here.
Automatic PAYGO cuts could have been avoided if Congress had simply waived PAYGO rules in the legislation they just passed. However, they did not do that. The reason is that the Senate could not include this provision under reconciliation instructions and pass their bill with only 51 votes. Instead, they would have required 60. The reasons are technical. However, GOP lawmakers passed the bill to please the rich campaign contributors who own them. Mission accomplished. They can fly home, knowing campaign dollars will continue flowing.
Now the hot potato bill sits on the president's desk. If he were to sign it before January 2018, it would trigger steep sequestration of funding starting January, and that would mean an automatic 4% ($25 billion) cut to Medicare in 2018, meaning he would be smashing an important campaign promise not to cut Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. However, by waiting until the new year to sign it, PAYGO cuts wouldn't go into effect until 2019 (after the elections). What the president apparently wants is for the GOP to pass a PAYGO waiver as a part of the continuing resolution to fund government a while longer. Democrats want some things too, like renewal of CHIP and DACA, as well as passage of the Alexander-Murray market stabilization bill. Presently, everyone appears to be in a state of shock and/or exhaustion, and there is very little clear direction how all this will shake out -- or what role we can/should play in it. (Yes, we should keep pressing for CHIP, DACA, and Alexander-Murray, but none of these things are going to happen except as a part of the continuing resolution. It's the only power Democrats have, because the CR will require 60 votes in the Senate.)
What would PAYGO look like? Although some programs like Social Security and Medicaid would be exempt from sequestration, Medicare would be cut by the 4% cap (about $25 billion per year), and numerous other programs would be cut to their caps too. Even after all the automatic sequestration, PAYGO does not have the means to heal the deficit.
Having said all this, Republicans have other plans with regard to the deficit, and again, it's what FactPower has been sounding the alarm about for these past few weeks: They plan to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. There's a good article about it here.
We now have what amounts to a game of "chicken." Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are enormously popular programs that even Republican constituents don't approve of cutting. Will the president take the first whack by giving Americans that "beautiful" Christmas gift he's been talking about -- tax breaks to rich folks and automatic cuts to Medicare? Remember, he promised clearly and repeatedly not to cut Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security while campaigning. Will GOP lawmakers flinch and make concessions on DACA, CHIP, and Alexander Murray to take that off his shoulders? (Hint: They don't particularly like the guy.) Or will these lawmakers go full-evil and gut the big three programs themselves? And would the president even sign their bill if they did (which would smash his oft-repeated campaign promise)?
The political calculus of these questions is over our pay grade at FactPower, and all of our sources are equally confused how this will all shake out. All we can do is to monitor and sniff out direction. Meanwhile, we urge everyone to call his or her lawmakers (1 representative, 2 senators), irrespective of party. The automated Congressional Switchboard 202-224-3121. Tell your lawmakers:
Don't cut Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security
However, as you do this, please recognize you are asking for things that are difficult to reconcile with the reality of our current situation. All of these things cost money, and there is only just so much money to go around, considering that the Republicans just finished giving so much of it away to rich people and corporations. The calculus is complex, and the way the Democrats deal with it may be very nuanced. We will need to take our cues from them over the coming days and weeks.
We are leaving up our call to action from a few days ago, in case some people want to call swing lawmakers to gripe at them.
IT'S LIKE THIS: Sen. McCain is returning to Arizona and will not be voting on the tax bill. His death may be imminent, and our hearts go out to the senator and his family. However, we have been given a second chance. WE CAN DECIDE WE WILL WIN THIS TAX FIGHT, OR WE CAN DECIDE TO LET IT PASS AND LOSE IT. Everything hinges on the week of December 18 - 22. The House plans to vote on Tuesday and the Senate on Tuesday or Wednesday. If that doesn't happen (if the Senate doesn't have the votes), then everyone goes home for the holidays, and we begin again with Doug Jones (D, AL), taking Luther Strange's (R, AL) Senate seat. Even after McCain is replaced (with another Republican), we would only need TWO GOP senators on our side to block the bill, which would make it a much more winnable battle.
IF WE LOSE:
The GOP will explode the budget deficit
The exploding deficit will automatically trigger PAYGO cuts to Medicare and countless valuable programs.
OR MORE LIKELY, The exploding deficit will become the pretext for gutting or dismantling the ACA, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (all of them).
Trump and the GOP will have their mojo back. Their base will be energized, and Trumpers will come scurrying out from under their rocks to vote their lawmakers into office in 2018. We will have a hard time taking back the House and the Senate. Also Trump's path to reelection in 2020 will look a tiny bit brighter.
IF WE WIN:
The GOP cannot create a massive budget deficit and will have very little budgetary basis to attack Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. (They will still take another shot at the ACA, though, and that will mean another shot at Medicaid.)
Trump and the GOP will appear weak and feckless. Their base will lose enthusiasm. Mega-wealthy donors will cut off their campaign contributions as promised, and we will have a very good shot at taking back the House and Senate in 2018. Trump's reelection chances in 2020 will be very dim.
We can't emphasize this enough: This is Trump's and the GOP's flagship TAX BILL. There is nothing more important to them. NOTHING! We can have them on the ropes if we decide to fight. The problem is that we stopped fighting after the Senate bill passed. Look at the graph above, and you'll see what we mean. (FactPower's Washington DC source confirms that our efforts have fallen off dramatically.) (Update: Monday's response was somewhat better -- about 1/6 of the December 1 peak.) Yes, this is the holiday season, and we'd rather be Christmas shopping. However, what better Christmas present can we give to ourselves and our families than a second huge defeat for the GOP? It's times like these that show whether we activists are wearing our big-girl/boy pants.
So if you're sending an email every week or so, or if you plan to make a phone call to your representative, thank you. BUT IT'S NOT ENOUGH. If we want to win, we have to HAMMER the Senate and House (but especially the Senate) relentlessly. We have to do this figuratively by land, air, and sea -- by phone, fax, email, Facebook, Twitter, and in-person. Got a free moment riding shotgun in a car? Call. Sitting in a waiting room? Tweet and post to FB. We have to reach across district/state lines and persuade/shake the swing-vote lawmakers. We cannot play nice. We are at war, and as activists, we have to play a bit dirty.
Let's get started...
STATUS OF THE BILL:
We've lost both the House and Senate battles, and the bill is in theory still in the Conference Committee, although House and Senate have reached a compromise and have already released the language of the bill. The House usually has little difficulty rounding up enough votes and will likely pass the bill Dec. 19. The Senate hopes to pass the bill Dec. 19 or 20, but if we do our jobs well, they will not have enough votes to proceed to a vote. Everyone will go home for the holidays and will return January, when newly elected Democratic Sen. Doug Jones (Alabama) will replace Republican Luther Strange. From then on, the battles will be somewhat easier.
These are the major headlines of the bill:
Tax rates slightly lower overall, but returning to current levels after 2025
Increased exemption for AMT (so fewer rich people will have to pay it)
Standard deduction doubled. Personal exemptions eliminated.
Child tax credit doubled from $1000 to $2000, but only refundable up to $1400.
$500 credit for dependents.
Income thresholds will not keep pace with inflation, so taxes will increase in the long term.
Rich families can use 529 plans to send their kids to private schools.
State and Local Tax (SALT) deductions limited to $10,000
Medical expenses deduction is made slightly more generous (threshold lowered to 7.5% of income) for 2017 and 2018 ONLY.
Individual mandate eliminated starting 2019.
Estate tax threshold moved from $5.6 million to $11.2 million (meaning rich people pay less in estate taxes). Expires after 2025.
20% pass-through income deduction (means small business owners pay less on income than individuals)
Corporate rate cut from 35% to 21%.
7.5% repatriation tax (14.5% for cash)
Overall, this plan is less horrible for low and middle income Americans than it started, thanks to our efforts. Although the compromise bill has not yet been analyzed, it appears the bill would not substantively impact taxes for low and middle income people and would result in substantial tax savings for wealthy people, particularly with regard to the estate tax. All of these changes would disappear in 2026, and all income groups would be left with higher taxes than without the bill, due to income thresholds not keeping up with inflation. Corporations, however, would see enormous tax savings that would be permanent. (See this article for a good run-down of who wins and loses.) This would result in a huge deficit ($1.5 trillion over a decade) that would only be partially compensated by economic growth, leaving us with a $1 trillion deficit overall. Here's where lower and middle income people would get screwed, though: This $1 trillion deficit will either trigger automatic PAYGO cuts to Medicaid and other important programs at the sole discretion of the president, or it will be the justification for the GOP to cut, weaken, or dismantle the ACA, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security -- something they've been eager to do for a long time.
Tuesday update: The GOP says they have the votes in both the House and Senate too pass the bill. The House vote will be Tuesday, and the Senate vote could be either Tuesday or Wednesday. The House vote will be tighter than we had thought, because numerous Republican representatives from high tax states feel the $10,000 State/Local Tax deduction is inadequate, so the are "NO" on the bill. If you come from a high tax state and have a Republican rep (or if you expect your state/local taxes to exceed $10,000), please target that representative to reinforce this concern.
KEY PLAYERS IN THE SENATE:
Murkowski (R, ME) seems solidly on board with the GOP.
Corker (R, TN) was at one time a solid "NO," but he announced his support Friday Dec.. 15. Since then a last minute term in the bill (added in conference, pertaining to Real Estate Investment Trust income) was discovered that would would make Corker (a real estate mogul) a LOT richer. He denies having any foreknowledge of this provision and is now studying the bill, presumably to determine whether he can support it. According to FactPower's Washington DC source, Sen Corker is livid, although we don't know whether it's because the scandal hit the press or because he was found out. Anyway, Sen. Corker is possibly in play again.
Like Corer, many other senators would be personally enriched by this provision. Please seethis article, and give these senators hell.
Flake (R .AZ) seems to be wavering but is unknown. He bargained his vote for assurances on DACA, and the GOP may or may not keep its word to him.
Collins (R, ME) has committed to a "YES" as of Monday (Dec 18) afternoon. This doesn't mean we should stop hounding her. It just mean's she's become a lower priority.
Rubio (R, FL) now says he's a "YES". He had been holding out for expansion of child tax credits for the working poor. (He had spoken passionately about this on the Senate floor.) He also had concerns about the corporate rate. The GOP has now won Rubio's support by bumping the child tax credit from $1100 to $1400.
Sen. Lee (R, UT), committed to a "YES" vote as of Monday (Dec 18) afternoon, falling in line with Rubio.
Sen. John McCain has returned home to Arizona due to his cancer and is not expected to be able to vote on the bill.
Sen. Thad Cochran is also having medical issues that have required hospitalization, presumably for removing a non-melanoma lesion from his nose. There is certainly more to this story. Cochran is age 80.
Newly elected Sen. Doug Jones (D, AL) will not be seated until early January, so he will not be able to vote against this bill until then. Meanwhile, outgoing Sen. Luther Strange is a "YES."
Sen. Rand Paul (R, KY) has tweeted that he "cannot in good conscience vote to add more to the already massive $20 trillion debt." However, in the linked video, he concludes by saying he will be a "'NO' on any budget-busting spending bill." Because the tax bill is not a spending bill, he is NOT stating his opposition to the bill. In fact he supportsthe bill very enthusiastically. It's not that he believes in magic faerie dust and trickle-down voodoo. Rather, he knows that the deficits this bill creates will be eliminated by automatic PAYGO cuts to Medicare and countless other important programs, under the president's pen. Or more likely, Congress will take up "entitlement reform" in 2018 and make very DEEP cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, possibly making major revisions to these programs. Moreover, he is one of the senators benefiting from the Corker Kickback (although he announced his support before that provision was written).
Sen. Lindsay Graham has tweeted that the government should not be making anyone's Social Security contributions from the general revenue. FactPower asked for clarification from his office as to what this means, and we were told that the tweet has nothing to do with contributions. Instead, Graham actually meant that the government should not provide Social Security benefits to anyone who has not paid into the system. (Consider this a prelude to "entitlement reform" in 2018, essentially the two-step scenario discussed above.) If we lose the battle on this tax bill, it will be very difficult or impossible to stop this second step of weakening or dismantling these important programs.
WHO TO CALL/WRITE/PESTER AND WHAT TO SAY:
Rather than to provide you an entire Senate/House list (which I did before), I'm going to target everyone's energy at ONLY the most important people. Hit them all, and invade their universe through every avenue (phone numbers, fax numbers, Facebook "post" pages, Twitter links, and email addresses for senior staffers). Call, email, and fax the entire list once per day. Troll them on Facebook and Twitter throughout each day. If they ask where you're calling from, tell them, and then add that your campaign contribution dollars are willing to travel. However, everyone on this list is either a national figure or a party leader, so you don't need to be shy about calling them.
(In order from most important to least important)
Sen. Bob Corker (R, TN) | Facebook | @SenBobCorker (Note: Use #CorkerKickback) | firstname.lastname@example.org | 202-224-3344, 901-683-1910, 615-279-8125, 865-637-4180, 731-664-2294, 423-753-2263, 423-756-2757 (202-228-0566 fax)| Lone dissenting vote against senate tax bill. Not running for reelection 2018 and is likely to stand up to destructive GOP agenda. | TALKING POINTS: I'm calling about the GOP tax bill. I appreciate that Sen. Corker voted against the bill the first time around, but I'm very upset that the GOP has bought his vote by adding the Corker Kickback -- a provision that would substantially reduce taxes on his real estate operations. Is this how he intends to abuse his power when leaving the Senate -- one last, huge cash grab?! This bill is immoral. It's written for the benefit of rich people like Sen. Corker and big corporations, and it will blow up the deficit at a time when we are swimming in debt. Then to fix the deficit problem, the GOP is going to rob us of our Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That's not right! Tell Sen. Corker to do the honorable thing, and vote NO on this tax scam. He already has enough money, and common people are struggling.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R, AZ) | Facebook | @JeffFlake | email@example.com | 202-224-4521, 602-840-1891, 520-575-8633 (202-228-0515 fax) | Not running for reelection in 2018 and has resolved not to be complicit in the GOP's destructive agenda. He leveraged his YES vote on the tax bill for an agreement to pass DACA (which the GOP might not honor). | TALKING POINTS: I'm calling about the GOP tax bill. The bill is little more than a reward to rich campaign contributors and corporations. It's going to blow up the deficit, and that's either going to trigger PAYGO cuts to Medicare and countless other important programs, or it's going to be used as the justification for gutting the ACA, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Common people will get hurt. Many will even die, and that's immoral. I appreciate that Sen. Flake has struck a deal over DACA, but he's counting on the GOP being honest with him. But they lie, and he should know that. Please tell Sen. Flake to use his vote to block this bill. America needs a hero, and we're counting on him to do the right thing.
Use THIS TOOLto look up your own US representative and senators by zip code. It will give you phone numbers and website addresses. ☎️ Or call this number to reach the automated Congressional switchboard: 202-224-3121 Call both Republicans and Democrats. Thank the Democrats for fighting for you. Chastise the Republicans for this horrible redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top. Tell both how this bill would affect you personally.
Sen. Susan Collins (R, ME) | Facebook | @SenatorCollins | Elizabeth_Allen@aging.senate.gov | 202-224-2523 (202-224-2693 fax) | "No Labels" (aligned with House Problem Solvers Caucus) | TALKING POINTS: I'm calling about the GOP tax bill. The bill is little more than a reward to rich campaign contributors and corporations. It's going to blow up the deficit, and that's either going to trigger PAYGO cuts to Medicare and countless other important programs, or it's going to be used as the justification for gutting the ACA, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Common people will get hurt. Many will even die, and that's immoral. I appreciate that Sen. Collins has bargained her vote for assurances on market stabilization measures for the ACA, but assurances from the GOP leadership are meaningless, because they lie. Even if the ACA markets can be strengthened, the cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security would be devastating. Please tell Sen. Collins to use her vote to block this bill. America needs a hero again, and we're counting on her to do the right thing.
Sen. Rand Paul (R, KY) | Facebook | @RandPaul | firstname.lastname@example.org | 202-224-4343 (202-228-6917 fax)| Libertarian| Tea Party | TALKING POINTS: I'm calling about the GOP tax bill. This bill is nothing but a thinly veiled cash grab for rich people and multinational corporations. It would blow up the debt, and that's fiscally irresponsible. Sen. Paul said, "I cannot in good conscience vote to add more to the already massive $20 trillion debt." And yet that's exactly what he says he'll do, which makes him a liar. Even worse, he intends to use the added debt to justify gutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. He should be ashamed of himself. This is both immoral and fiscally irresponsible. Tell him to vote NO on this horrible bill!
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R, AK) | Facebook | @lisamurkowski | email@example.com | 202-224-6665 (202-224-5301 fax)| Conference Committee | TALKING POINTS: I'm calling about the GOP tax bill. This bill is nothing but a thinly veiled cash grab for rich people and multinational corporations. It would throw tens of millions of people off insurance, and it would be the pretext for gutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. It's disgusting that Sen. Murkowski is bargaining away the safety net for hundreds of millions of Americans, just so her friends can drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge -- at a time when America is already swimming in cheap, domestic oil. This bill is immoral and disgusting. Tell Sen. Murkowski to vote against it.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R, KY) | Facebook | @SenateMajLdr | firstname.lastname@example.org | 202-224-2541, (502) 582-6304, (859) 224-8286, (859) 578-0188, (606) 864-2026, (270) 781-1673, (270) 442-4554 (202-224-2499 fax)| Tea Party | TALKING POINTS: I'm calling about the GOP tax bill. This bill is nothing but a thinly veiled cash grab for rich people and multinational corporations. It would blow up the debt, and that's fiscally irresponsible. And then the debt is just going to be used as a pretext to slash Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That's immoral If Sen. McConnell thinks the healthcare battle was humiliating, just wait until he tries to take away these safety-net programs! And win or lose, prepare to be devastated in 2018, when Democrats take back both the House and Senate!
Sen. John Cornyn (R, TX) | Facebook | @JohnCornyn | email@example.com | 202-224-2934, 713-572-3337, 956-423-0162, 806-472-7533, 210-224-7485, 512-469-6034, 903-593-0902, 972-239-1310 (202-228-2856 fax)| Conference Committee| Tea Party | TALKING POINTS: I'm calling about the GOP tax bill. This bill is nothing but a thinly veiled cash grab for rich people and multinational corporations. It would blow up the debt, and that's fiscally irresponsible. And then the debt is just going to be used as a pretext to slash Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That's immoral If Sen. Cornyn thinks the healthcare battle was humiliating, just wait until he tries to take away these safety-net programs! And win or lose, prepare to be devastated in 2018, when Democrats take back both the House and Senate!
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R, UT) | Facebook | @SenOrrinHatch | firstname.lastname@example.org | 202-224-5251 (202-224-6331 fax)| Conference Committee | TALKING POINTS: I'm calling about the GOP tax bill. This bill is nothing but a thinly veiled cash grab for rich people and multinational corporations. It would blow up the debt, and that's fiscally irresponsible. And then the debt is just going to be used as a pretext to slash Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That's immoral If Sen. Hatch thinks the healthcare battle was humiliating, just wait until he tries to take away these safety-net programs! And win or lose, prepare to be devastated in 2018, when Democrats take back both the House and Senate!
Speaker Paul Ryan (R, WI-1) | Facebook | @SpeakerPRyan | (202) 225-3031 (202-225-3393 fax) | TALKING POINTS: I'm calling about the GOP tax bill. This bill is nothing but a thinly veiled cash grab for rich people and multinational corporations. It would blow up the debt, and that's fiscally irresponsible. And then the debt is just going to be used as a pretext to slash Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That's immoral If Speaker Ryan thinks the healthcare battle was humiliating, just wait until he tries to take away these safety-net programs! And win or lose, prepare to be devastated in 2018, when Democrats take back both the House and Senate!