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Gail Collins: Taxes, Trump and turkey

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Gail Collins is a columnist for the New York Times.

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By Gail Collins
The New York Times

Monday, November 20, 2017

Donald Trump is back from Asia. What do you think he’ll be doing next?

A) Pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey.

B) Urging Congress to pass a clean, simple, middle-class-friendly tax bill.

C) Pardoning Sean Hannity.

The answer is A, obviously. Turkey gets a reprieve on Tuesday. And rumors that the president has ordered the execution of all turkeys previously pardoned by Barack Obama are not true. It was a joke on a website. Stop telling people that!

But about the tax bill – things are getting a whole lot grislier than they are on the turkey front. Republicans desperately need to pass some kind of tax cuts, just to prove their majority is capable of doing something more exciting than renaming post offices. Voting starts this week, but now they’ve really muddied up the game.

People, if you were advising the Republicans on how to get a tax bill passed despite their infinitesimal majority in the Senate, would you suggest they:

A) Get Roy Moore to endorse it.

B) Add an assault on Obamacare.

C) Get rid of the part where you raise taxes on teachers who buy supplies for their classes.

OK, you’re a terrible politician. Republican leaders thought carefully and decided the best strategy was to attack Obamacare. Which worked so well for them last time around.

(Perhaps you are wondering about Option C. Under the current Republican plan, teachers would still lose their princely maximum-$250 tax deduction for purchasing school supplies for their students. However, the bill is not heartless. Tax breaks for golf courses are unscathed.)

“How about ending the unfair & highly unpopular Indiv Mandate in OCare & reducing taxes even further?” Trump tweeted from Asia. The individual mandate is the part that requires everyone to have insurance. Without it, the whole system could fall apart.

For a while, almost everybody ignored him. The only Republican senator who was really lobbying for a tax-bill assault on Obamacare seemed to be Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is hobbled by injuries he suffered when a neighbor tackled him while he was mowing the grass.

We are still a little mystified by why this happened. Another neighbor told reporters it was a landscaping issue. It does not seem to have been related to health care, and thankfully, the senator has really excellent coverage.

But here’s the question. Why is the Senate choosing to totally complicate its tax-cut pitch, poisoning any possibility of bringing along moderate Democrats, by tossing in an all-out assault on the Affordable Care Act?

A) Rand Paul made them do it.

B) Trump told them: “Get rid of Obamacare or the turkey dies.”

C) Republicans wanted more money for multinational corporations.

Honest to God, it’s C. Just the other day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a gathering of CEOs that cutting the individual mandate out of Obamacare would save the government $330 billion over 10 years.

That $330 billion, McConnell said, would allow them “to make permanent the corporate tax rate” and “puff up some of the middle-class tax relief that we would like to puff up.”

The puffing would not be permanent, by the way. One of the grandest things about the new Senate version of the tax cuts is that stuff for multinational corporations is meant to last forever, while stuff for middle-class taxpayers would fade away after a decade.

All these changes happened so swiftly and silently, almost nobody could immediately figure out what was going on. “We learned about this latest version at 10:30 last night,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said Wednesday. Wyden is the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. He asked for a summary of what the new, thick, deeply complicated bill would do. “They all looked at us and said, ‘Why?’”

“What is making you do this to us?” cried another Democratic senator. Over in the House, Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas complained that the Ways and Means Committee had devoted “less time to hearings on this bill than it takes to microwave popcorn.”

Everything’s so frenetic it’s hard to know what’s going on. The House Republicans, in a moment of large-heartedness, seem to have given up on the idea of killing a tax deduction for adoptions. Graduate students in work-study programs, however, had better keep their eyes open.

And the chances that the whole package will keep the deficit from exploding are pretty minimal. Rep. John Larson of Connecticut, one of the Democrats on the House tax-writing committee, says a Republican leader told him they would work everything out in the long run by cutting back on entitlements like Medicare. We are expecting to hear a lot more of that discussion in days to come.

Really, Trump’s staff probably went through a more careful process picking out a turkey for him to pardon. And we’re looking forward to that already. Will he say anything to the turkey? Wait for the turkey to pay him a compliment? It’s not as if he’s much of a fan of non-red meats.

Now steak is another matter. Do not ever expect Donald Trump to pardon a steer. Or lead a party.

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