Extremist leaders are proposing to give billions in tax breaks to the wealthy – by raising taxes for poor people, write the co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign
By The Rev Dr William J. Barber, II and the Rev Dr Liz Theoharis
December 1, 2017
Donald Trump and leaders in Congress are on the verge of enacting one of the most immoral pieces of legislation in our nation’s history. The Republican party has billed its plan as a tax cut for America’s middle class, but it is in fact an act of gross violence against America’s poor to serve the country’s richest and most powerful.
The claim of the cuts is scarcity. But we do not have scarcity of money; we have a scarcity of moral will. We have an abundance of resources that could end poverty for everyone.
Extremist leaders are proposing to give billions in tax breaks to the wealthy, and to pay for it by raising taxes and cutting life-saving services for poor people, working poor people and the most vulnerable among us.
Listen to what the prophets of old in our sacred traditions have to say about this:
Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. (Isaiah 10:1-4)
Cutting taxes on the wealthy and eliminating services for the poor and dispossessed has been a plan of white nationalists ever since the days of the southern strategy led by the likes of Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. It is a strategy that those with power and wealth have used throughout history to divide and conquer people at the bottom. What is tragic is the states that are the poorest are the states with the worst voter suppression and the states with the members of Congress most ardently behind this plan.
The very politicians that claim Trump is not stable set aside this assessment to heed his advice when it comes to money. But the Bible says that love of money is the source of all evil.
No one can dispute the fact that this bill being pushed through is full of evil and will have oppressive impacts for which the nation must be warned. This weekend the congressional joint committee on taxation found that while big corporations and millionaires and the heirs of millionaires will benefit, most people making under $75,000 a year will see their tax burdens rise.
Even provisions that one would think would help the working poor – like an expanded child tax credit – are slanted towards the wealthy. A single mother making the minimum wage with two children could claim a $75 tax credit, while a family making six figures will receive thousands in tax cuts.
That is not the only way this bill shifts the burden from the rich to the rest. The legislation would prey on children and families by gutting key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Healthcare premiums will rise by 10% over the next decade – meaning a premium increase of $2,000 for middle-class families.
These healthcare cuts will cost lives. About 13 million people will lose coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office. We know that for every million people without access to healthcare, 5,000 die preventable deaths. That means our lawmakers and the president of the United States are prepared to sacrifice tens of thousands of lives to deliver a massive tax break to the fortunate few.
We also know these cuts will overwhelmingly hurt many of the white people who voted for them and will have a disparate impact on black people and other people of color.
Meanwhile, the tax cut will add $1.4tn to the national debt, setting the stage for deeper cuts to public goods. In the short term, we could see automatic cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. In the long term, this tax plan will lay the groundwork for massive cuts to social security and other programs that sustain the poor, the elderly, and the most vulnerable among us.
We reach back to our sacred texts that affirm life, love, and justice and condemn such systemic greed.
This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood. (Jeremiah 22:3)
Many of the bill’s champions would tell you that they are Christians who let their religion guide their policymaking. Some might even say they are “pro-life”, while they work furiously to strip people of the healthcare they need to survive. But these lawmakers are passing legislation that is heretical to the more than 2,000 verses that call on all of us to care for the poor and the sick. And they have certainly forgotten the warnings of the Bible to leaders who neglect and oppress the poor.
The proponents of this bill have promised us that tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations will “trickle down” to the rest. Not only does history refute this tired talking point, the executives who lead the companies themselves deny they will invest their newfound gains in good jobs that could lift working people and their communities. Instead, companies like Cisco, Pfizer and Coca-Cola have said they will turn most of the gains to their wealthy shareholders in a vicious circle of greed and vice.
We know our nation has a heart problem when our elected leaders would rather fight a war on the poor than a war on poverty. This is bigger than any one bill. Legislation like this could only come so close to fruition in a broken political system.
In the 2016 elections, candidates across parties held 26 debates, and in all those hours there was not one mention of poverty or systemic oppression. The voices of America’s poor have been forgotten by those in power, who continue to push a narrative that the poor are poor through fault of their own.
For things to change poor people and people of conscience will have to stand up by the tens of thousands and demand to be heard. On Monday, we are launching the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, a movement of direct action, civil disobedience, voter education and mass mobilization aimed at saving the soul of the nation.
Now, 50 years after Dr Martin Luther King, welfare rights workers and many others called for the original Poor People’s Campaign, there is still much work to be done. Whether the tax bill succeeds or fails, it has given the country’s poor, as well as people of faith and conscience who stand with them, one more reason to stand up and sound the call for the moral revival our country so desperately needs.
The Rev Dr William Barber II and the Rev Dr Liz Theoharis are co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival