January 16, 2018
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Senate tax bill a lose-lose for disabled Mainers

By Lisa Wesel and Erin Rowan, Special to the BDN
George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

The Senate tax bill threatens the lives of countless disabled Americans.

Republicans claim that the $1.4 trillion in tax cuts — given primarily to corporations and the country’s most wealthy citizens — will “pay for themselves.” We don’t believe them, and neither do their own experts.

First, their claim is based on an unfounded trust in corporate America to reinvest those tax dollars in expanding businesses and increasing employment. Historically, that “trickling down” has never happened. Cisco Systems, Pfizer and Coca-Cola have already said they plan to hand the tax cut to their shareholders.

Several nonpartisan analyses estimate the Senate bill will generate only $169 billion in new growth over the next decade, a fraction of the $1.4 trillion it adds to the deficit. And the Joint Committee on Taxation, using the dynamic scoring approach preferred by many Republicans, predicts the bill will add $1 trillion to the deficit, while only triggering 0.8 percent economic growth. Put another way, the best case scenario is a paltry annual growth rate increase of 0.08 percent.

Second, this tax bill would automatically trigger PAYGO, a budget rule that requires cuts in mandatory spending to help manage deficits, targeting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Medicare ($25 billion a year), affordable housing and vocational rehabilitation.

[There’s still time for lawmakers to reject the tax bill abomination]

While Sen. Susan Collins has received assurances from House and Senate leadership that they “will work to ensure these spending cuts are prevented,” it is unwise to count on this Congress to agree to waive what is to some a cornerstone of responsible governance, and to others an easy path to cuts they want to make anyway.

Even if PAYGO is waived initially, these programs will be at risk as the deficit balloons further each year, and it’s only a matter of time before Medicaid is back in the congressional crosshairs. It’s a lose-lose for disabled Americans.

This Congress has repeatedly attacked programs that benefit the disability community. Every recent health care bill included severe cuts to Medicaid. They’ve yet to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And the fiscal year 2018 budget resolution includes nearly $5 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and many other programs.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has repeatedly shared his desire to cut federal safety-net programs, and Sen. Marco Rubio said deficit control measures would include “structural changes” to Medicare and Social Security. Their intentions could not be any more transparent.

[Why we need the individual mandate (and why repealing it would be a disaster for the middle class)]

In addition, removing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate will make private health insurance unaffordable to thousands of Mainers, including disabled Mainers who are able to remain employed only because they have access to affordable health care.

The president has agreed to back both the Alexander-Murray and Collins-Nelson bills, but neither compensates for the nearly $320 billion decrease in federal spending on coverage programs over the next decade, and neither creates market stability.

Collins-Nelson would recoup less than 8 percent of the approximately 13 million people who will likely lose coverage without the mandate. And it would require about four times the proposed $2.5 billion in federal funds for state reinsurance programs to compensate for the projected 10 percent premium increases.

Alexander-Murray would help with cost-sharing reduction payments for only one year (2019), and, even then, in most states only those on silver plans would really see a benefit. Sen. Patty Murray herself opposed this use of her bill, saying “Tacking Alexander-Murray onto the partisan Republican tax reform effort is like trying to put out a fire with penicillin.”

Disabled Mainers from cradle to grave currently go without services as money is hoarded for a “rainy day.” With this bill, they will have an even greater burden to bear, as their dignity, employability, housing, health care and community inclusion are stripped away. All to encourage an “economic stimulus” that history demonstrates will likely end up in the hands of the wealthiest Americans.

Collins and Sen. Angus King have stood with disabled Americans often throughout their careers, but in this latest battle, King fought valiantly for fairness and regular order, while Collins supported a bill that will harm disabled and otherwise vulnerable Americans as much as, or more than, previous attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

With reconciliation of the final bill still ahead, we are struggling to reconcile Collins’ stated values with her most recent actions.

Lisa Wesel is mother of a daughter with Dup15q syndrome and epilepsy. She lives in Bowdoinham. Erin Rowan is mother of two young daughters, one with Down syndrome and another with special health care needs. She lives in Scarborough.

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