Republicans in Congress say they have reached a deal on final tax legislation that will overhaul the US tax code, dramatically impacting not only household income, but also healthcare and domestic spending. The plan would slash taxes by nearly $1.5 trillion, with the vast majority of the cuts benefiting major corporations and the richest Americans, including President Trump's own family. A final vote could take place next week. We speak with David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and founder and editor of DCReport.org.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Republicans in Congress say they've reached a deal on final tax legislation that would slash taxes for wealthy Americans and lower the tax rate for corporations. The move clears the way for a final vote next week. In the tax plan agreed on by the House and the Senate, the corporate tax rate would be reduced to 21 percent from the current 35 percent. Middle- and low-income families would receive smaller, temporary tax cuts. President Trump touted the bill at the White House on Wednesday.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our tax cuts will break down -- and they'll break it down fast -- all forms of government and all forms of government barriers, and breathe new life into the American economy. They will unleash the American worker. They will tear down the restraints on discovery, innovation and creation. And they will restore the hopes and dreams of the American family. Millions of middle-class families will win under our plan. … We'll have very little Democrat support, probably none. And that's purely for political reasons. They like it a lot, and they can't say it. They don't like what's happening, but they can't say it. Some day we have to come together and do bipartisan, and hopefully it can happen soon.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Republicans say they have enough votes to pass the measure and send it to Trump by the end of the year, offering him his first major legislative victory. Meanwhile, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on Wednesday congratulated Republicans for being honest that the GOP tax bill was written for wealthy campaign contributors.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: This legislation, which will have a major impact on our economy, has not had one public hearing, not hearing from economists, from governors, from mayors, from the business community, from ordinary Americans, as to what the impact of this legislation will be. This is legislation written for wealthy campaign contributors. And I want to congratulate some of my Republican colleagues for being honest about that. What they said publicly is, if they don't pass this bill, their wealthy friends will stop contributing. I appreciate that honesty.
AMY GOODMAN: Democrats are demanding a final vote be delayed until newly elected Alabama Senator Doug Jones is seated.
Protests took place throughout Capitol Hill Wednesday. Members of the Center for Popular Democracy demonstrated outside the office of Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, until they were granted a meeting to discuss their concerns the bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act requirement that most Americans have health insurance or pay a penalty.
For more, we're joined in Rochester, New York, by David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, formerly with The New York Times, who specializes in taxes and the economy. Now he's founder and editor of DCReport.org. Johnston's biography of Donald Trump is The Making of Donald Trump. His forthcoming book is It's Worse Than You Think. It will be out in January.
David Cay Johnston, is this tax bill worse than most people think? Explain what it is you understand that the House and the Senate have agreed on.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, this is a fantastically wonderful tax bill if you're a billionaire, a hedge fund manager or one of the 143 Americans whose job last year paid over $100 million. You're going to just enjoy this bill to the hilt. On the other hand, the Republicans have managed, with this bill, to do what I would have thought was impossible. They are about to enact a tax cut that is wildly unpopular, that surveys show a majority of Americans oppose, because they understand that this is a tax bill of, by and for the political donor class. And it clearly reveals something you've heard me say before about the real Republican agenda, that the Republicans believe that America's pressing, overwhelming economic problem is the rich don't have nearly enough, and they've got to get more to the rich.
So here's how they're doing it. They're going to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21. They are going to lower the top marginal tax rate from 39 percent to 37. So, if you make $100 million a year, if you're one of those 143 highest-paid Americans, you just got a -- you're about to get a $2 million annual tax cut. And they're going to raise taxes on many families, particularly in the high-tax states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California -- which just happen to be the states that also pay the higher wages in this country. That the Republicans could pass a bill that will be unpopular with the majority of Americans is just astonishing. But looks like they're about to do that.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, David, could you talk about what -- whether Trump and members of his Cabinet are likely to benefit from this bill, and if there are any Republicans who have dissented, who have voted against it?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, Donald Trump, personally, is one of the biggest beneficiaries of this bill. He owns over 500 enterprises. And his tax rate, assuming he's really paying taxes -- and we don't know, because he's the only presidential candidate or president since the late '70s who hasn't shown us his tax returns -- he's likely to see his tax rate fall by somewhere between 30 and 50 percent. So he's a huge beneficiary, despite all his claims that, you know, "I'll pay more. I'll pay more." It's just not true. Other members of his Cabinet, like multibillionaires Wilbur Ross and Betsy DeVos, are going to save enormously on their investments.
At the same time, it's going to create a lot more work for lawyers. Many businesses, because of the new partnership rules, are going to split themselves into two parts or three. That will require a lot of legal and accounting work to reorganize these businesses. It will make them less efficient, but it will save them taxes.
So, the way to think about this bill is, this is a shopping list for the clients of Goldman Sachs. Donald Trump ran for president saying that he was going to drain the swamp in Washington. What he's really done is turned it into a paradise for Goldman Sachs and its clients.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Senator Bernie Sanders speaking about the impact of the Republican tax bill.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: After you raise the deficit by $1.4 trillion by giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations, you're going to come back, and you're going to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and education and the needs of working families. What kind of decency is there when we have legislation that gives massive tax breaks to billionaires and then comes back and wants to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? This bill must not be passed.
AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston, what about Social Security? How does this bill relate to that?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, remember that Donald Trump ran for office saying, "Unlike the Republicans overall, I will not have any cuts to Social Security or Medicare." Well, we're about to see that promise go down the tubes, too. They're going to borrow one-and-a-half trillion dollars, give it to the wealthiest people in the country, and then they're going to come back and say, "There's no money. We have to make other cuts."
Orrin Hatch has already done this. Orrin Hatch, from supposedly family-friendly Utah, was one of the original sponsors of CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program, that covers about 9 million kids. And what did he say the other day? "Well, there's just no money. There's no money."
So, we have money for billionaires. We have money for people in the Trump Cabinet. We have money for the president of the United States. But there's no money to take care of children who need healthcare. And pretty soon, they're going to come for your Social Security.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the graduate students? To say the least, over the last weeks, they have been extremely active, walking out on campuses across the country. Talk about, in fact, what they are now calling a great victory.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, at DCReport, I described the education provisions in this bill as the IDIOTS Tax Act, because what we're doing to give the already rich more cash today is starving our future. We're taking away the -- or we were -- I haven't seen the latest version of the bill, nobody has -- the $250 item for teachers who buy supplies. And we were going to tax graduate students on their tuition waivers. We haven't seen the final conference version of the bill, so we don't know if there's a victory there or not, or whether it's a seeming victory. Remember, we've had a number of tax bills passed that supposedly fixed problems, including problems I revealed, that turned out to be not really fixes when you read them. They just were apparently fixes.
AMY GOODMAN: Doug Jones has just won the election in Alabama. A lot of Democrats are now demanding that he be seated -- since they're saying Alabama has spoken -- before the tax vote happens. And they're using the example of President Obama, right before Obamacare vote, saying, "Of course we will wait for Scott Brown," who was the elected Republican of Massachusetts, the senator, "because the people of Massachusetts have spoken." David Cay Johnston, this is clearly not going to happen, at least at this point.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Right. Well, this is an unfortunate development in our country in the short run, which is that the Democrats and the President Obama example with Scott Brown, where we're going to play ethically and thoughtfully, and Mitch McConnell's attitude is one of "We've got the power. We're going to use it as long as we have it." Now, the election of the Democrat in Alabama means that there's only a one-vote majority once he is seated. So if two Republicans lose their seats in the 2018 elections, the Senate would swing to the Democrats, or the Democrats together with the independents. And this is just an example of the contempt that we're seeing for the Constitution. I mean, Donald Trump clearly holds our Constitution in utter contempt. And Mitch McConnell's attitude is, "Anything I can get away with, I'm going to do. I'm not going to respect the Senate as an institution." This is not good for the country, and it's not good us economically in the short run.
AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston, we want to thank you for being with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, previously with The New York Times, now founder and editor of DCReport.org. His biography of Donald Trump is called The Making of Donald Trump. His new book, coming out in January, is titled _It's Worse Than You Think."
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, one of President Trump's accusers speaks out. We'll speak with Jessica Leeds about what happened to her in 1979 when a flight attendant went back to coach on the plane and invited her forward to sit in first class. She would be seated next to Donald Trump. Find out what happened next. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: That's Haiti's beloved folk singer and troubadour Emmanuel "Manno" Charlemagne, who died on Sunday in a Miami Beach hospital at the age of 69.