President Trump and the Republican Congress sure have it in for blue America. Last week’s immigration arrests targeted sanctuary cities only. The late, unlamented Graham-Cassidy attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act would have decimated health insurance coverage in the preponderantly Democratic-controlled states that accepted the Medicaid expansion, and that did the best job of informing potential beneficiaries of their eligibility.
Now comes the Republicans’ so-called tax reform package, which also takes dead aim at Democratic states. By eliminating the deduction taxpayers can take on their federal forms for their state and local tax (SALT) payments, the GOP proposal socks it to those Americans who reside in states that have enacted progressive taxes to fund such basics as — see above — increasing the accessibility of healthcare.
Not coincidentally, the state where all of these targeted policies would have their greatest impact is California, the GOP’s Great Satan. Fully 167 of the roughly 500 immigrant arrests last week took place in Los Angeles. (Forty percent of those arrested had no criminal convictions.) Graham-Cassidy’s Medicaid reductions would have plunged millions of Californians back into the uninsured pool. The elimination of the SALT deduction would all but guarantee that middle- and upper-middle-class Californians will pay more taxes.
All of which poses a conundrum for the 14 Republican House members from California. Up to now, they’ve been remarkably indifferent to the GOP war on the state they profess to represent. None of them, to my knowledge, has spoken in favor of the ordinances passed by the state’s major cities to forbid their police departments from detaining individuals for lack of documentation, or the bill the legislature just passed to extend that policy statewide. None has condemned the arrests of noncriminal undocumented immigrants. All 14 voted for the Affordable Care Act repeal that came before the House, notwithstanding the tens of thousands of their constituents who’d have lost their coverage had that bill made it into law.
The proposal to eliminate the SALT deduction from federal taxes, however, would hit a constituency that these legislators aren’t eager to offend: their own voters. In election season, these Republican members of Congress aren’t usually seeking to turn out the votes of working-class Medicaid recipients or the relatives of the undocumented. But without sufficient support from the upper-middle class, the already enfeebled California Republicans would go the way of the Whigs.
In three of the otherwise red Orange County congressional districts that Hillary Clinton carried in November, for instance, the SALT deduction gets a workout. Forty-five percent of the taxpayers in Mimi Walters’ district take a SALT deduction (average amount: $8,794); 38% in Dana Rohrabacher’s ($8,264); 46% in Daryl Issa’s ($10,024). The elimination of the SALT deduction is one of the main reasons why hardly any of the GOP’s proposed multi-trillion dollar tax cut will trickle down even to the upper-middle class, much less to those less affluent. According to the Tax Policy Center, fully 80% of the cuts will accrue to the wealthiest 1%.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, if some California Republicans, in league with GOP members of Congress from such other high tax states as New York, seek to keep the SALT deduction on the books.
The resultant bill would still be a horror, of course: It would still direct most of its “relief” to those who need it least. The share of the nation’s income going to the richest 1% last year — 24% — was the highest ever on record. And yet the GOP proposes not only to cut their income tax but also eliminate both the estate and alternative minimum tax, which affect only the top sliver of the 1%.
The GOP argues that by showering more wealth on the very wealthy, they’ll invest more in job creation — the libraries bulging with evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. But the only significant investments that clearly flow from such tax giveaways are those in the Republican lawmakers’ own careers — the contributions to their campaigns from the Kochs and the Mercers and their ilk.
California’s Republicans may argue for some changes to their tax bill, then — but nothing, we can be sure, that will diminish the pelf of the plutocrats they so dedicatedly serve.
Harold Meyerson is executive editor of the American Prospect. He is a contributing writer to Opinion.