Tax bill passes amid concerns about future effects on poor

By Dennis Sadowski

(CNS) — Republican lawmakers joined President Donald Trump in cheering passage
of the most significant overhaul of the federal tax system in three decades
even as the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee called on
the president to work with Congress to fix “unacceptable problems” in
the law.

hailed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as the stimulus needed to get the economy
rolling into high gear as they expected corporations to reinvest in America
with the middle class benefiting from lower taxes, higher wages and greater job

contend the law will provide a windfall for people with the highest incomes and
corporations that already are seeing record profits and that there will be limited
benefit to low- and middle-income families, who will see their taxes rise beginning
in 2025.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishop’s Committee
on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said that while the law
“achieves some laudable things,” it also “contains a number of
problematic provisions that will have dramatic negative consequences,
particularly for those most in need.”

In a
statement released minutes after the bill passed the House for the second day
in a row after fixes were needed to match what the Senate passed early Dec. 20,
Bishop Dewane expressed concern that the law will raise taxes for people and families
with lower incomes while cutting taxes for the wealthy.

is clearly problematic, especially for the poor,” he said. “The repeal
of the personal exemption will cause larger families, including many in the
middle class, to be financially worse off.”

The bishop cited
a concern that the country’s deficit will grow and that some members of Congress
may argue that cuts in programs that aid poor and vulnerable people are needed to balance
the federal budget.

The law
“also is likely to produce up to a $13 billion drop in annual charitable
giving to nonprofits that are relied upon to help those struggling on the
margins. This will also significantly diminish the role of civil society in
promoting the common good,” Bishop Dewane added.

Advocates for
poor and elderly people echoed the bishop’s worries about the possibility of
deep cuts in spending on Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and other social

you move forward, we urge you to reject efforts to use the deficit created by
this bill as a pretext for even greater cuts to programs for low-income
communities,” Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of
Catholic Charities USA, wrote in a Dec. 19 letter to members of Congress.

She also called
on Congress to “address the shortcomings in this bill and recommit yourselves
to the bipartisan solutions needed to lift people out of poverty.”

Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice
lobby Network, said the tax bill ignores the common good in provide tax cuts for wealthy
people and corporations at the expense of people in poverty.

know what will happen now that this tax plan is law: The budget shortfall
created by outrageous tax cuts for the wealthiest will pressure Republicans in
Congress to, once again, balance the budget on the backs of people in
poverty,” Sister Campbell, a member of the Sisters of Social Service, said
in a Dec. 20 statement.

She called
for “reasonable revenue for responsible programs” that serve as
“lifelines for families and individuals struggling to make ends

legislation passed along party lines in both chambers, with Democrats unanimously
lining up against it.

The Senate
passed the bill 51-48 early Dec. 20. In the House hours earlier, the measure
passed 227-203, as 12 Republicans — eight of them Catholic — joined Democrats
in opposing the bill.

the House was forced to revote on the legislation Dec. 20 after the Senate
parliamentarian determined that certain provisions violated guidelines on what
types of legislation can pass with a simple 50-vote majority.

tweaked the bill, took the vote and returned it to the House, where it passed 224-201.
Again, 12 Republicans voted against the bill.

signed the measure within hours of passage.

Eleven of
the 12 House Republicans voting against the bill were from the high tax states
of California, New Jersey and New York. They cited concerns that constituents would
see their overall tax liability rise because of limits on the state and local
tax, or SALT, deductions contained in the bill.

The bill
caps the SALT deduction at $10,000 and eliminates it altogether in eight years.

this deduction, which has been part of the U.S. tax code since 1913, will
increase taxes and harm the already unaffordable housing market in my
district,” Rep. Dan Donovan, R-New York, who is Catholic, said in a statement
after the Dec. 19 vote.

Other Democrats
pointed to analyses that showed highest earners would benefit most from the changes
and estimates that the measure would add up to $1.5 trillion to the country’s
debt over the next decade.

The tax
reform plan affects virtually every American family. An analysis by the
nonpartisan Tax Policy Center released Dec. 18 found that 95 percent of
taxpayers would see lower taxes in 2018 with 5 percent paying more next year.

earning less than $25,000 annually would see $60 in tax savings, while those
earning $733,000 would see a cut of $51,140 on average, the analysis showed.

In 2025, 9
percent of taxpayers would pay more; by 2027, 53 percent — largely middle- and
low-income earners — would pay more, according to the analysis. Higher earners
would continue to see cuts in 2027 compared with current law, although at a
lower rate.

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, told reporters after the Dec. 19 vote that the
rollback of the cuts was necessary by 2027 in order to comply with Senate
rules. Ryan, who is Catholic, said he expected a future Congress to keep the cuts in place.

provisions of the law include doubling of the standard deduction while ending
the personal exemption; reducing the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21
percent and making it permanent; expanding the child tax credit; a cap on deductions
for state and local taxes; and reducing the deduction for mortgage interest.

The bill
also ends the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act that required
people to buy health insurance or face a penalty. The provision will save the
federal government $300 billion in subsidies over the next decade, but could find as many as
13 million people without health insurance.

Before the first
House vote, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, House minority leader, spent several
minutes criticizing the tax package, citing Pope Benedict XVI and the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops.

particular, Pelosi, who is Catholic, pointed to a Nov. 9 letter from the
chairmen of three USCCB committees to House members. Standing in front of a
poster quoting the letter, Pelosi charged that the bill was an example of “moral
obscenity and unrepentant greed.”

the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said early on, here it is, ‘This
proposal appears to be the first federal income tax modification in American
history that will raise income taxes on the working poor while simultaneously
providing a large tax cut to the wealthy.’ The bishops go on to say, ‘This is
simply unconscionable,'” she said.

She also recalled
Pope Benedict’s encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” (“God is
Love”), in which St. Augustine was quoted about the responsibilities of
the state.

Benedict quoted the urgent moral wisdom of St. Augustine 17 centuries ago,
my colleagues,” she said. “Seventeen centuries ago, St. Augustine
said, ‘A state that does not govern according to justice is just a bunch of thieves.’
Pope Benedict went on to say, ‘The state must inevitably face the question
about how justice can be achieved here and now.’ And he cautioned against, in
his words, the danger of a ‘certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling
effects of power and special interests.'”

questioned whether the bill met such standards.

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Follow Dennis Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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