On Tuesday afternoon, the House passed the final version of the GOP’s tax bill, and the Senate is expected to pass the bill later Tuesday night. The plan will upend the American economic system, raise taxes on middle class people making between $40,000 and $50,000 a year by more than $5 billion, cut taxes by more than $5.5 billion for people making more than $1 million a year, punish wage-earning employees, repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, likely force billions of dollars in cuts to safety net programs, and kill — conservatively — 10,000 people every year.
President Trump aims to sign the legislation into law as soon as possible.
The bill that will end up on his desk is propped up by lies: Republicans promised the tax cuts would pay for themselves, but even the friendliest analyses tell a different story. They promised they would simplify the tax code, but they ultimately only further complicated the process. They promised they would cut taxes on the middle class, but they’ve done the opposite.
And despite its devastating consequences, despite the lies that made it possible, news outlets across the political spectrum have been intent on characterizing the bill a “win.”
“With their tax bill, Republicans prepare for a long-awaited win,” CNN proclaimed Monday morning, just four days after running another story headlined, “Tax win will be huge for Trump, but don’t bank on political windfall.” The Hill echoed the network Monday, running an early morning piece headlined, “GOP on precipice of major end-of-year tax victory.” The Associated Press agreed, determining the tax bill is a “victory” and The Washington Examiner decided Trump was “on a roll.” On Saturday, Politico declared that the president was taking an “early victory lap.”
The path to passage was at times tumultuous, but ultimately — with flimsy promises made and broken and provisions from which legislators will personally profit tucked in at the last moment — Republicans roped all the necessary members of their caucus into voting in favor of the killer bill. Briefly, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) threatened to withhold his vote, but he quickly reversed course, a move that prompted The Washington Post’s economic policy reporter to tweet, “Rubio is a YES. Republicans appear to have locked down the support they need to pass the $1.5 trillion tax bill into law. Votes next week. Would be huge win for Trump, GOP.”
On Tuesday, after the House voted in favor of the final package, a number of outlets leaned into the same rhetoric. The Hill declared, “House passes final tax bill, edging GOP closer to win.” Fox News proclaimed, “House approves final tax reform bill, as Trump eyes major legislative win,” and ABC went with, “The Latest: House passes $1.5T tax bill in major win for GOP.”
Despite holding both gavels and the White House for nearly a full year, the Republican party has failed to pass a single significant piece of legislation. The GOP spent much of the year trying and failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the tax reform bill will, just days away from the end of 2017, be the first successful attempt to pass major legislation during the Trump era.
But calling the GOP’s tax plan a “win” is not journalism. It’s an opinion about who counts and who doesn’t.
The plan is unpopular, and opposition has grown as debate has continued. Opposition has grown by ten points in the last month, with 55 percent of people saying they oppose the bill, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday. Just 33 percent of people said they favored the GOP’s efforts to reform the tax code. In the same poll, nearly four in 10 people (37 percent) said that their family would be worse off if the bill became law.
Of course, this kind of politics-as-entertainment coverage is hardly new. Earlier this year, CNN’s Chris Cillizza summed up the Congressional Budget Office’s report finding that 23 million people would lose their health insurance under Trump’s health care plan with a frowny face emoji, and major news weeks in DC are often summed up in “winners and losers” lists.
Political reporters, cable news anchors, and Twitter devotees have covered the GOP’s looting as if it were the Super Bowl. But by choosing to focus on the “winners” and “losers” on the Hill, the fourth estate is downplaying the impact this “win” will have on human lives. 92 million families making $200,000 or less per year are going are going to see their taxes increase over the next decade thanks to this “win.” Savvy CEOs, Wall Streeters, NFL players, and overpaid horserace-style journalists are going to pay their accountants absurd sums to sniff out all the ways the bill can save them from the tyranny of paying into the safety net protecting the millions of people less fortunate.
This “win” is dismantling the promise of upward mobility upon which America was built. It’s potentially upending the lives of anyone who relies on Medicare. It’s straining public schools and the millions of young people with student loans — and this is just the beginning.
Earlier this month, hours before the Senate passed their version of the bill, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) spoke about the bill on the Senate floor.
“I have not the slightest doubt, as I have said before, that after the Republicans pass this huge tax giveaway to the wealthy and large corporations, they will be back on the floor of the Senate,” he said. “And when they come back, they’ll say ‘Oh, my goodness, the deficit is too high. We have got to cut social security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, and nutritional programs.’ In other words, in order to give tax breaks to billionaires and to large profitable corporations, they’re going to cut programs for the elderly, the children, the working families of this country, and the poor.” (His prediction is already coming true. House Speaker Paul Ryan has vowed to target welfare, Medicare, and Medicaid spending in 2018.)
The GOP’s tax bill, Sanders said, “will go down in history as one of the worst, most unfair pieces of legislation ever passed.”
And he’s right: It is one of the most unfair pieces of legislation ever passed. But in history’s first draft, at least, it’s going down as a win.