Congressional Republicans are betting that their shiny new tax reform legislation will distract from their repeated failures to implement a policy agenda that appeals to middle-class Americans. It’s a bet they are going to lose.
Tax policy reveals a political party’s true colors – its priorities and who it advocates for provide unique insight into the party’s vision for the country. Is it a party that believes the tax code should be structured in a way that promotes upward mobility? Or is it one that focuses on protecting the wealthiest at the expense of those struggling to make ends meet?
In a year where Republicans have gone out of their way to promote ideas and policies that are antithetical to middle-class priorities, their tax bill, which was signed into law last week, is providing the clearest sign yet of whose side they are on.
Republicans passed a tax bill that would make home ownership more expensive, curb state and local property tax deductions for homeowners, gut the Affordable Care Act and add more money to the pockets of the rich by weakening the estate tax.
Evidently, the GOP has a penchant for dismantling vital resources like health care to pay for even more tax breaks for the “needy” 1 percent.
Included in this new law is an exemption for private jet owners from paying taxes on various services related to maintaining their planes – things like aircraft storage, maintenance, fueling, hiring of pilots and crew, flight planning and weather forecasting. As part of the new law, if you own a $20,000 car, you have to pay taxes on the cost of parking it in a garage; but if you own a $20 million jet, you can park it in the airport hangar tax-free.
This sort of favoritism toward the mega-rich should come as no surprise considering that American passengers already foot more than 90 percent of the bill for millionaire and billionaire high-end jet owners to fly around the country. In other words, middle class Americans stuck in the middle seat are left paying the bill.
Private aviation costs the Federal Aviation Administration more than $1 billion a year, yet wealthy CEOs and private jet owners contribute less than 1 percent into the FAA’s trust fund to pay for things like air traffic control operations. The difference is made up by taxpayers like you and me in the form of 14 different taxes and fees we get hit with every time we buy a plane ticket.
This already-unfair funding makes the new private jet tax breaks particularly hard to stomach. Apparently if you own a home or a vehicle, you’re expected to pay taxes on the costs to maintain those things. But if you are a 1 percenter who can afford your own private jet, Republican senators think you deserve a freebie.
It is hard to defend the reasoning or explain the logic behind the new Republican-led law. No matter how you slice it, doing away with tax breaks that help the middle class pay for health care and buy homes so that billionaires can save a few bucks on their private jet maintenance costs is a slap in the face to every hardworking, tax-paying American.
Congressional Republicans claimed there was something for everyone in their tax cut bill, including the middle class. If they were serious about wanting to help all Americans, they should have restored the middle-class tax breaks for homeowners and drop giveaways like the gift they are giving to private jet owners.
Voters will be watching, especially the 99 percent who are being ignored, and every new tax break for the wealthy only makes their choice at the ballot box easier next November.
Becky Ogle, a longtime disability rights activist, is the former executive director of the Presidential Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities under President Bill Clinton and a former senior adviser on policy for the Department of Labor under President Barack Obama.
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