The independent news organization of Duke University

A tax on democracy

Just before 2 a.m. ET, the Senate passed a heavily annotated and mystery-shrouded tax reform bill that is projected to add a trillion dollars to the US deficit. Republican leaders spent the days leading up to the vote desperately adding provisions to sway GOP senators who were still wary and making last minute changes to the bill—with some even scrawling handwritten revisions into the margins. The content of the bill itself is deeply worrisome, but what is also a cause for alarm is the unsanctimonious method by which it was ramrodded through Congress. This decidedly undemocratic process seems all too painfully familiar in an administration that has become so comfortable with circumventing legislative tradition and procedure. Moreover, complicit within this legislative tax heist against the American people is the Republican Party, which has reached a historic low in its dishonorable political double standards in the Trump era.

While Trump tweeting out threats and poorly-punctuated ad hominems has now become a common occurrence, just years ago President Obama was harshly criticized for what were arguably less egregious actions. Incidents involving using dijon mustard, wearing a tan suit during a press briefing and once sporting a pair of sandals all drew a strange amount of ire from conservative critics. However, Republicans who were all too ready to battle Obama over the smallest slip ups are now hammering through the legislative goals of a man who has made dangerous political blunders a centerpiece of his first year in office. Seven years ago when the Affordable Care act was passed through Congress, GOP lawmakers criticized the expediency by which the ACA was passed, yet the Republicans have just passed what was arguably a hastily-constructed bill in the process of mere weeks that few senators even had a chance to read before voting on it. This clear hypocrisy flies in the face of the American democratic tradition that demands debate, diversity of opinions, and prudence when drafting the laws of the nation. 

Notwithstanding the horrifyingly unequal provisions of the soon to be instituted tax law, the process by which GOP lawmakers have ramrodded the half-baked legislation through Congress represents a historic low for the Republican Party. In past instances of major tax reforms, such as the 1986 Tax Reform Act that was passed under bipartisan support, the political process of transforming such important pieces of legislation into the law of the land took months; the process entailed dozens of public hearings, formal revisions to initial drafts of the bill, and public transparency. Thirty years later, the Republican Party has shamelessly exploited its congressional majority to ignore the legislative prudence required in debating and fine-tuning a tax reform that will undoubtedly affect millions of Americans. GOP lawmakers have disgracefully ignored the many economists and academics who have criticized the tax reform as dangerously premature, as well as the pleas by their Democratic colleagues to extend the voting date for the bill. Instead, for the price of a “major legislative victory” in a heavily partisan Congress, the Republican Party has sold out on the American people through their half-scribbled, incoherent tax plan. 

It is clear that this tax reform—regardless of how poorly it was constructed or the many issues it was laden with—was to be pushed through by a GOP anxious for some semblance of a legislative victory in what has been a stalemate year for the majority party. The new tax reform represents a victory in eyes of conservative leadership, but it is nonetheless a Pyrrhic one that will likely reap serious consequences. Instead of crafting a substantive piece of legislation that could have legitimately improved the lives of millions of Americans, the Republican Party chose to value empty political symbolism over the well-being of their democratic constituents. The vote panned out to 51-49 with only one GOP senator voting no; the rest chose to follow party lines and to pass a dangerously imperfect tax reform. Under an administration in which such an undemocratic abuse of power has become all too common, we should seek to voice our collective grievances next year during the midterm elections. 


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