Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 94th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.
Today we bring you a conversation with Michael Kink, the executive director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition. Kink discusses how the GOP tax bill benefits only the rich at the expense of everyone else, and how to fight it.
Sarah Jaffe: The last time we did one of these interviews, we were talking hypothetically about a tax bill. Now there is a tax bill that has passed one house of Congress. What are some of the highlights and/or lowlights of this thing?
Michael Kink: I would say that it is almost all lowlights. It is a cartoon parody of the most ridiculously unfair tax plan that anyone could come up with. It literally adds new subsidies for private jets while taking away tax deductions for the parents of disabled kids. It is utterly, utterly ridiculous.
Families making between $10,000 a year and $75,000 a year are going to see tax increases.
The only highlight is that it is tremendously unpopular. The vast majority of Americans don't like it, don't want it, understand that it benefits the wealthy over regular people, understand that it doesn't close any loopholes and opens up some new ones....
I would argue ... that the tax bill puts lives at stake in many of the same ways that the health care bills did. It basically includes a $1.5 trillion cut to Medicaid and Medicare. But it's a tax bill, and so there is certainly a presumption in the media that most people don't particularly care about tax bills, or most people figure, "They will give a bunch of money to the rich and maybe they will give a little bit of money to me or someone like me and I will be okay."
The fact is, unless you are incredibly, ridiculously, preposterously rich, you are not going to get much of a benefit at all out of this. And most regular working-class/middle-class people are going to see tax increases. The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation's official report on the Senate bill said families making between $10,000 a year -- which is fairly poor -- and $75,000 a year -- which is kind of middle class -- most of those families are going to see tax increases.
The tax bill itself sets off $28 billion a year in automatic cuts to Medicare.
The folks who get big tax cuts are the heirs and heiresses of billionaires. They are going to inherit their massive fortunes tax-free. Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. and the kids of all the hedge fund moguls and private equity titans are going to do really well. Multinational corporations are going to get a massive cut in their tax rate. There are going to be new corporate loopholes, including actual new subsidies for outsourcing jobs.... They are opening up new subsidies for corporations to move profits and jobs overseas.
The carried interest loophole is still wide open and hedge fund managers and private equity managers will benefit from a new pass-through tax scam that will cut their taxes even more. All of these folks are big campaign donors and they use their political contributions to really rig the system. They have got a tax bill that is a dream for them.
Young people with student debt are going to lose their interest deduction for that debt. School teachers are going to lose their deductions for teaching supplies. Families struggling with medical expenses are going to see deductions eliminated. In terms of health care, the Republican budget and the Republican tax bill work together to set up $1.5 trillion in cuts to Medicaid and Medicare. And the tax bill itself sets off $28 billion a year in automatic cuts to Medicare.... They are still trying to pass it even though it is incredibly unpopular. Chris Collins, the congressman from Buffalo, admitted to ... The Hill ... that "My donors are calling me and they are telling me that they will never return any of my calls again if we don't pass this bill." So, they are even admitting that the main pressure for this bill is coming from their biggest campaign contributors.
We are working around the country to fight this. A lot of the health care activists and grassroots activists that fought and beat the health care bill are engaged in this and are fighting back against it. The teachers' union -- the American Federation of Teachers, the Communication Workers of America, the National Nurses United, and a bunch of community groups have come together for a national day of action Wednesday, November 29. There is a website with some details of the actions at www.stopGOPtaxscam.com.... We are aiming for a kind of grassroots march on Wall Street on Saturday, December 2.... If the bill keeps going, as we expect it will, into December, we are going to aim for a second wave of direct action/protests on Capitol Hill on December 5.
The ... last time we had a Republican president selling us a big package of tax cuts for rich people, it was George W. Bush, and the argument was that it was tax cuts for everybody, and it just so happens that rich people make more money and so they got bigger tax cuts.... They would have passed something by now with much less opposition if they were not being so grotesquely class war about it....
I think that the ownership of the Republican Party by the most aggressive and most entitled and system-rigging rungs of capital is entirely complete. The Bush tax cuts for the rich included a refundable tax credit where families got checks. Working people got an actual check. Now, you can say, "I got a $400 check and some billionaire a dozen zip codes away got a $4 million check," but regular people who might be Republican or Democratic voters got something.
Nobody gets anything out of this bill. It goes to private equity titans, hedge fund managers, international banks, multinational corporations. I do think that the policy apparatus in Washington in the Republican Party is so completely and utterly broken, so distant from the reality of the vast majority of people who provide the votes to keep these people in power, that they just don't talk to those people, they don't listen to those people, they don't care about those people. They figure, if they feed them racial hatred and division on immigration policy, and they yell at football players, then those people will get their "two-minutes hate" to scream and yell and that will be enough for them.
What is the single-payer of economic policy or fiscal policy? Policies that actually redistribute income and invest in the future.
It shows such utter contempt for their voters that I don't know how long they can exist as a political party. I don't think most people that are getting nothing and are getting hurt from public policies are going to put up with it. There is a larger question of whether there is an actual, forceful, populist progressive option that anybody in mainstream politics is going to put out there, but the Republicans are working to pass bills that benefit billionaires and their lobbyists. I don't think that the Paul Ryans and Mitch McConnells of the world really care about anybody else right now. That is very clear from the legislation that they are presenting to the public.
That is an interesting point that you bring up: What would we like to see as the alternative? What should Bernie Sanders and Keith Ellison and anybody else who wants to be the leadership of a progressive/left alternative to this be pushing forward right now? Single-payer health care was the obvious thing in the wake of the repeated health care disasters, but what should we be demanding in response to this?
I think there are two angles to look at. One, at even the most moderate level, if you look at public opinion polls ... most Americans want the wealthy to pay their fair share. Most Americans want to see higher taxes on rich people, not lower taxes on rich people. Most Americans would like to see a lot of loopholes eliminated, particularly the loopholes for outsourcing jobs. Most Americans would like to see a tax system that doesn't overly reward people that are already wealthy, that doesn't over-reward people that just invest for a living, that does something to help families that are struggling. We don't have any legislation that does that.
More aggressively, what is the single-payer of economic policy or fiscal policy? I would argue that if most people want to see the wealthy pay their fair share and most people want to see government budgets that actually invest in and create jobs by hiring people and giving them pay checks -- as opposed to just sprinkling helicopter-loads full of cash on rich zip codes -- we could talk about fiscal policies that actually redistribute income and invest in the future. We can talk about public goods. We can talk about the opportunity to close loopholes, make the wealthy ... invest in an economy that would actually employ a lot more people than we have now. We could make the transition into a clean energy infrastructure. We can move forward with single-payer health care ... in a way that responds to our opioid addiction crisis, that responds to the aging [in the US], that provides more independent living options for seniors and for people with disabilities.
There are a lot of things we could do that would create a lot of good, meaningful jobs for Americans with decent pay checks and we have the money to do it. The Republicans are saying they would be willing to spend $1.5 trillion on something. If we were going to spend $1.5 trillion on clean energy and public health and education ... a lot of people would be in favor of that. The tax system is a way that can provide the resources to do it... When we have young people supporting socialism over capitalism by significant margins because they have been screwed so badly by the economy, then I think it is incumbent on politicians to provide more effective public policies that were previously extended.
There aren't too many people that are doing that right now, but there are starting to be some, and I think we are starting to see that the public is rewarding politicians that come out with more forceful and positive solutions. Single-payer health care is very popular. We are seeing the weakness of the center-right system of moderate Democrats that relies on tax incentives. The Republicans get rid of all these tax deductions that Bush and Obama and many that Clinton put in place to try to help working people. It is all done through the tax system. They kept all the deductions for the wealthy and they are eliminating all the deductions for working and poor people. They are basically saying, "Screw all you people. We are not giving you anything."
The alternative is: Let's have something big and powerful and forceful like single-payer health care. Let's have free, affordable, universal childcare for all kids that includes a strong early education program that gets every single kid in [the US] ready to go to school and be a great learner. If other countries do it, we could do it, too. Let's have a distributed, networked clean-energy system that reduces people's electric bills, that reduces climate-destroying greenhouse gases, and that creates millions of American jobs for people of every race everywhere in the country. The ability to do big powerful things that people want is there.
The Republicans are so utterly beholden to the donor class that they're putting forth stuff that's unpopular. There is a hole wide open... I would argue it is up the middle.... People are going to support something that is clear and effective and powerful.
We talked a lot about the health care fight and how that worked and how at the end of it, we come out with more support than ever for a single-payer health care bill. This could, indeed, work the same way if the pushback to this is actually paired with a positive demand....
One and a half trillion dollars. In terms of public policy, it suggests new areas to go forward. Everyone understands that if you get rid of the estate tax, it is only benefiting these heirs and heiresses of the billionaires.... You could have a 100 percent inheritance tax on fortunes over $1 billion or over $5 billion. You could say, "We do not want dynastic wealth in this country. You can get your first billion and keep it, but we are not going to let you keep this 2nd, 3rd, ... 14th and 30th. We are going to take that and put it back into public goods. Because you created Facebook or that hedge fund or whatever with huge amounts of public resources. You use mathematicians trained at land grant universities. You use the advanced research facilities at colleges and universities. You took patents that were in the public realm and you made private profits off of them...." At a high enough level, we have got to do something to protect our democracy.
When the heirs and heiresses of billionaire fortunes can take over an entire political party and force them to pass public policies that the vast majority of even their own voters don't want, there is a problem with democracy.
The billionaires declared class warfare on everyone.
I don't know if we will get to 100 percent inheritance tax.... But I do think the same way we saw a lot of the support for single-payer health care, after the GOP tax bill, you are going to see a lot of proposals for higher inheritance taxes. You are going to see tax bills that close loopholes on outsourcing jobs that are going to be taken more seriously. You are going to see continued progress for our state-level bills to close the carried interest loophole. If Congress is so bought and paid for that they won't do it in Washington, then state lawmakers ... can take steps to bring the money back for state governments, until and unless Congress does it. There is going to be more support for fair taxes at the state level...
What lessons did you and the other folks who are planning all these actions learn from the health care bill that is being applied to fighting the tax bill?
From a movement perspective, it was really interesting seeing a lot of different people from different backgrounds realizing how much they have in common.... There was a kind of commonality of purpose and experience with the health care fight that I think is really an antidote to the division, the politics of hate that Trump and Breitbart and the Mercers and Bannon have thrown at us. They really want to keep people divided....
On health care, you saw a lot of people in the same boat and they came from a lot of different places. There were folks from Arkansas and Alaska and New York and California and Connecticut and Vermont and Alabama all working together, all doing teach-ins in church basements, all sleeping in sleeping bags together. That was a very powerful thing to see. I think in tax policy you have seen something of the same thing happening with the Indivisible groups, with the labor unions, with the students, and the Bernie folks and more conventional big national unions jumping into this fight.... Whether or not you agree with fighting class warfare on behalf of people who are workers, the billionaires declared class warfare on everyone. So that kind of puts people in the same boat.... And the fact that the tax fight includes a health care fight made it a lot easier to make that leap.
How can people get involved in some of these various actions that are going to be coming up?
StopGOPtaxscam.com. There are some simple bullets on the plan and there is a whole set of days of actions where folks can click through. That hashtag, #GOPtaxscam, is also going to be in place where you can look on Twitter and Facebook. There will be a lot of local events. I think the face to face is really important; going to events, joining with other people.
There [is] certainly a plethora of online calling tools. You should call your member of Congress, your House member and your Senator.... If you go to www.stoptrumptaxcuts.org ... or ... www.taxpolicycenter.org ... or ... www.notonepenny.org, there are a lot of places you are going to get a "Click here, put in your zip code, and we will call your Senator and your House member for you."
I do think that they need to be getting calls every day next week.... There are a lot of Republican Senators that have expressed concerns. Senator McCain on process; Collins on the health care angles, still has some significant opposition. Senators Corker and Flake and Moran and Langford have all talked about the problems with the bill in increasing the deficit.... They are going to have problems within their own conference passing this bill quickly.
We need every Democratic Senator to oppose it and we need those couple dozen House Republican members ... I think the bill that comes back to the House to consider is probably going to be worse than the bill they got before. It is going to hurt more people, it is going to be more destructive to working-class and middle-class voters that will either re-elect these people or kick them out of office.
So, I do think that there are going to be several opportunities over the next couple of weeks for people power to try to work its magic one more time. That is something that has worked over and over and over again this year in stopping the worst of the public policy proposals that Trump is trying to jam through Congress. There is one more thing we have got to stop this year before we can take a break....
How can people keep up with you?
My Twitter is @MKink. Strong Economy for All is at www.strongforall.org. The Hedge Clippers project has tagged a lot of the biggest funds around these campaign contributions -- system rigging and billionaire audacity and mendacity is at www.hedgeclippers.org.
Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.