Tax reform bill called 'unacceptable,' some provisions 'unconscionable'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz


Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 “is unacceptable” as currently written and it “contains
many fundamental structural flaws that must be corrected,” said the chairmen of
three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In a Nov. 9 letter to
U.S. House members, the three bishops called for amendments to the current
draft of the tax reform bill “for the sake of families” and “for those
struggling on the peripheries of society who have a claim on our national

Quoting St. John XXIII’s
1961 social encyclical, “Mater et Magistra,” they said that
“decisions about taxation involve fundamental concerns of ‘justice and equity,’
with the goal of taxes and public spending ‘becoming an instrument of
development and solidarity.'”

Because tax-policy is “so
far-reaching,” Congress also must provide “ample time for Americans to discuss
the complexities of these reforms and fully understand their effects,” they

Signing the three-page letter were
Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman, Committee on Domestic
Justice and Human Development; Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico,
chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace; and Bishop George V.
Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman, Committee on Education.

“Doubling the standard
deduction will help some of those in poverty to avoid tax liability, and this
is a positive good contained in the bill,” the bishops wrote. “However, as
written, 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. This is simply

The Nov. 9 letter referenced
Bishop Dewane’s Oct. 25 letter to House members in which he offered moral guidelines
for lawmakers to consider in any tax reform proposal. The guidelines focused on
the country’s responsibilities to care for the poor; form and strengthen
families; develop a progressive tax code; raise adequate revenues for the sake
of the common good; avoid cuts to poverty programs to finance any tax cuts; and
incentivize charitable giving.

to the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, households with
income between $20,000 and $40,000 per year will see their taxes raised in 2023,
2025, and again in 2027. Taxes also will increase on average taxpayers earning
between $10,000 and $20,000 in 2025.

taxpayers who make over $1 million “experience dramatic tax cuts for the same
periods,” the bishops wrote.

federal poverty line is $12,228 for one person and $24,339 for a two-parent
family, the bishops noted, adding that nearly one in three Americans live in a
family with income below 200 percent of the poverty line.

“No tax
reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for those living in poverty
to help pay for benefits to wealthy citizens, the bishops said.

also said that the “Unified Tax Reform Framework” released Sept. 27,
upon which the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 is based, “promised that any new tax
code would be ‘at least’ as progressive as the present code. This plan breaks
that promise.”

The committee
chairmen described as positive the tax measure’s provisions in the areas of
education — “expanded access to schools of choice is a positive step” — and modest
increases to child tax credits.

But at
the same time, the bill places “new and unreasonable burdens on families,” and
must be changed, the bishops said. They criticized elimination of among other
things: the adoption tax credit and adoption assistance program exclusion; the
personal exemption, which they said “will harm many larger families”; the
out-of-pocket medical expenses deduction; and incentives to employees and
employers dependent care assistance or child care.

The bishops’
letter also cautioned that the deficit could “be used as an argument to further
restrict or end programs that help those in need, programs which are
investments to help pull struggling families out of poverty.”

They called
for fixes to the bill’s “disincentives” for charitable giving and for affordable
housing and community revitalization development projects.

“Because tax policy is
far-reaching, Congress must provide ample time for Americans to discuss the complexities
of these reforms and fully understand their effects,” the bishops said. “The
current timetable does not provide adequate time for that discussion.

“In many ways, this
legislation is unacceptable in its present form and requires amendment,” the
wrote. “It must be changed for the sake of families — the bedrock of our
country — and for those struggling on the peripheries of society who have a
claim on our national conscience.”

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