I’ve been trying to decide just what it is that has upset me so much about the Daines-Gianforte tax bill. After all, according to the Washington Post and given my adjusted gross income, I’m likely to get a few hundred dollars back for the next few years before my taxes go up again, and the multimillionaires who will be receiving most of the tax breaks are so much wealthier than I am that I’m certainly not driven by any new envy about their status. Even the real policy frustrations, like our crumbling infrastructure, the threat to public schools, and the looming cuts to Medicare and Social Security are more abstraction than reality in my life right now.
So why I am so angry?
Because I teach young people and see every day what the impact of our nation’s disastrous fiscal policies means for them right now and for their futures. I teach I a public school that serves an incredibly interesting mix of students from upper-middle-class families and those from very poor families. The kids from the former and I will benefit from the changes in the tax law as we can put aside a little bit more money, travel a little more often, or splurge on the occasional small luxury. A few hundred extra dollars won’t significantly impact most of our lives, but I’m sure it will be appreciated, even though most of us don’t really need it.
The students on the other end, though, represent an invisible Montana. In just the past year, I’ve had a student in my class who was in too much pain to concentrate on assignments because he had cavities his parents couldn’t fill until the next paycheck came in 10 days, students who have, though they are barely hanging on academically in their classes, been forced to take 20+ hour a week jobs to support their families, and a student who asked me if I could lend her $3 so she could buy a notebook to continue her love of writing fantasy stories over the Christmas break.
Those kids represent the deep, abiding economic insecurity in this nation and state, but Representative Gianforte and Senator Daines were in such a hurry to pass tax cuts for the wealthy that they voted for a bill neither had read nor could possibly understand the outcome of instead of working to ensure that these kids had their basic needs met. In fact, Gianforte, Daines, and the rest of the Republicans in Congress are doing actual harm to these kids.
Those kids aren’t just in families who won’t see any money from the Daines-Gianforte tax bill, but they’re in families who are seeing vital services cut to fund those tax cuts. While both houses of the Republican Congress were in such a rush to pass tax cuts for themselves and foreign investors (to the tune of $48 billion for the latter) that they couldn’t afford the time to hold public hearings or have real debate on the bills, they haven’t mustered the energy to renew funding for the CHIP program which covers around nine million kids who aren’t wealthy enough to afford a lot of health coverage and who aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. It’s so bad that 16 states will run out of money for the program in the next few weeks. From the New York Times:
This week, officials in Alabama said they would drop the coverage of 7,000 children and freeze the program to new enrollees on New Year’s Day. That state would have to end its program, which serves 84,000 kids in total, on Feb. 1. Virginia told parents of 68,000 children that its program could end on Jan. 31. Connecticut, Colorado and other states have issued similar warnings. All told, 16 states will run out of CHIP funds by the end of January, and another 21 will run out of money by the end of March, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
By the way, Montana is one of the states that will exhaust its funding by the end of March.
And, in case you missed it, foreign investors will net $48 billion dollars in just 2019 from the provisions of the tax bill. CHIP cost the federal government about $14 billion a year.
The moral bankruptcy of the GOP who passed this tax cut is so absolute that members of the party, while celebrating a tax bill that will increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion over the next decade, have demanded funding cuts in other programs to pay for children to get immunizations, check-ups, emergency care, and dentist visits, among other services. Republicans, who admit they have no evidence to suggest that tax cuts will generate significant growth, made it an absolute priority to send the richest Americans hundreds of millions of dollars, deepening our nation’s rich-poor gap to even more unimaginable levels, but can’t find the resources to ensure that kids get a healthy start in life.
Personally, I reject the Republican-held belief that government shouldn’t help those in poverty, but I’ve always assumed that Republicans at least cared enough about children—and had the good sense to hold them blameless for their poverty—to ensure that their basic needs were met. Apparently, that’s just not so, and pious positioning about Christian beliefs doesn’t extend to the most basic tenets of the faith, that children should be cared for, just doesn’t apply.
In Matthew, Christ makes his feelings as clear as possible:
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
It seems that the gospel of tax cuts matters more than the Gospel of Christ, who I am quite certain would much rather see a poor child be able to go to the dentist than to see a real estate owner buy his children another sports car.
As I think about the alternatives, whether that means ironic distance that only comes from privilege, sorrow that can only come from helplessness, or rage that comes from empathy and concern for others, I choose the last option, because some things are still worth getting furious about and turning that anger into action. Some things are worth fighting for, worth alienating people for, and work sacrificing for.
A year ago, when a minority of Americans elected a corrupt, venal, unqualified, racist, misogynistic embodiment of the worst of self-promoting vulture capitalism, I slipped into a depression that was hard to shake because I feared for our future as a people and a world. I don’t think I was alone, as many of us seemed in such a state of numb shock that we couldn’t respond.
We cannot afford to let this bill do the same to us. For the sake of kids who deserve a chance and middle and working-class people barely scraping by, we need to turn this outrage into action and remove these people from office as soon as we can.
Mr. Gianforte’s term in office must end in 2018, and Senator Daines’s must end in 2020.
Let’s get to work. Start talking to your friends and co-workers now about what’s at stake. Find out when groups of people in your community are meeting to discuss what can be next. Keep writing letters to the newspapers and your representatives in Congress, even though you know Daines and Gianforte won’t listen. Find local candidates who share your values and volunteer to help them get elected.