Bishop lays out detailed policies for 'morally acceptable' tax reform

IMAGE: CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

(CNS) — In a new letter to members of Congress, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of
Venice, Florida, outlined a sweeping package of changes in pending tax reform
legislation to ensure the final bill is “morally acceptable.”

Dewane, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human
Development, also addressed positive aspects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which
members of both houses of Congress continued to hash out Dec. 6 to reconcile their respective measures for a final bill.

A vote on a
final version was expected in the House of Representatives and
the Senate before Christmas.

Dewane in his Dec. 6 letter reminded Congress that the country has long
followed tax policy “that is good for workers, families who welcome life,
families who are struggling to reach — or stay in — the middle class, and the
very poor, (and) has been part of our tax code for years.”

“Any modification
to these important priorities of our nation should only be made with a clear
understanding and concern for the people who may least be able to bear the
negative consequences of new policy. For the sake of all people — but especially
those persons we ought, in justice, to prioritize — Congress should advance a
final tax reform bill only if it meets key moral concerns,” he said.

The letter called
for a reversal of the bill’s plan to gradually increase taxes on taxpayers in
the lowest income brackets while maintaining tax cuts for higher earners,
including the most wealthy.

tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for families struggling
to meet their daily needs in order to finance cuts for millionaires and
billionaires. The final proposal must be amended to avoid this outcome,”
Bishop Dewane wrote.

He also
called for restoring the personal exemption, which has been eliminated in both
chambers’ version of the reform package. Even with the doubling the standard deduction
as included in the legislation, families with more than three children would be
penalized, leaving them financially worse off, he said.

While lauding
the elimination of the marriage penalty under the child tax credit for
low-income working families, Bishop Dewane called for removing the bill’s requirement
that taxpayers provide Social Security numbers to claim the credit. Such a
requirement would harm immigrant families, he said.

Bishop Dewane
urged lawmakers to pass a final bill that does not include a Senate provision that
eliminates the Affordable Care Act individual mandate requiring people to purchase of
health insurance or face a penalty. He said dropping the mandate would lead to millions of people
becoming uninsured and that the issue would better be addressed in broader
comprehensive approach to health care policy.

The letter
welcomed the legislation’s bid to double the standard deduction, saying it
should be retained. He called the plan “a positive change that will help
some families, including many facing economic challenges, avoid tax

However, other
provisions of the House and Senate bills were cited in the letter for their negative impact on low-income
taxpayers. The letter called for:

Retaining the deduction for medical expenses; the deduction is included in the
Senate bill, but not the House version.

Retaining the adoption assistance incentive for employers; the provision was
eliminated in the House bill, but remained in the Senate.

— Ensuring
that employer incentives for paid family and medical leave do not end in

— Adopting
an “above-the-line” charitable deduction that would be available to
all taxpayers, whether they itemize on tax returns or not to encourage charitable

Restoring provisions that were cut in the House bill that assist working
families such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, a credit for people who
retire on disability, and deductions for tuition and student loans, state and
local taxes, employee business expenses and moving expenses; restoring other
provisions cut in the Senate bill including deductions for union dues and
expenses, clothing and uniforms and work-related education.

Retaining the housing credit and housing bonds that support development of
low-income housing and calling for additional measures so that both the credit and bonds are not
significantly devalued because of the lower corporate tax rate, restricting such

— Adding a
plan for the creation of “opportunity zones” for struggling

— Leaving in
place the current alternative minimum tax and estate tax “to ensure that
the risks taken in tax reform fall on those who stand to benefit most rather
than on those who struggle on the margins of society.”

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The full text of the letter can be found online at

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Follow Dennis Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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