On November 29th the Wausau Pilot and Review published an Associated Press article about an interview Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan recently gave to the Washington Post. In the interview Congressman Ryan, who will be retiring from public office this coming January, stated that one of his greatest regrets was not successfully dealing with the national debt, but that history would be very kind to the current congressional majority because of the tax reform bill Republicans passed under his leadership.
The obvious contradiction in Congressman Ryan’s comments would be almost comical if the end results were not so harmful to all of us. Quoting economics professor Teresa Ghilarducci in Forbes Magazine, “The most certain effect of the  tax cuts has been to help fuel a massive increase in the federal deficit and debt.” When no less than Forbes Magazine – corporate central – speaks the truth about the tax “reforms” passed under Ryan’s leadership, we should all take note.
We should also take note that an August 2018 Fox News Poll found 60 percent of Americans were against the 2017 tax cuts ushered through under Congressman Ryan. Wage earning Americans have learned the “trickle down” economic theory introduced long ago under President Ronald Reagan doesn’t trickle down to them.
So where did the 2017 tax benefits actually go? Like the “temporary” tax cuts authorized under President George W. Bush and made permanent under President Barak Obama, the money gushed up. The lion’s portion of the proceeds corporations received from the tax cuts went to stock buybacks. As Ghilarducci states, “Buybacks are attractive because most CEO pay is directly linked to stock values and not to productive capital expansion.” In other words, stock buybacks drive up the monetary value of a corporation’s stock price, but do nothing to actually increase investment in the productive capacity of the company. Wealthy investors make windfall profits while wage earners see virtually no gain.
This writing is not intended to be an attack on Congressman Ryan or the Republican Party as such. We wage-earning Americans have long intuitively understood that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have been acting in our – or America’s – best interests. We know that big money controls our government and politicians from both parties favor their wealthy donors. We know “We the People” have become political irrelevancies. No one represents us. It is time we start asking some serious questions.
Why didn’t government debt and deficit matter when America entered massively expensive wars after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and taxes on corporations were at the same time cut? Why did no one ask “how are you going to pay for it?”
When literally trillions of public dollars were needed in the aftermath of the Great Recession in 2007-2008 to bail out corrupt Wall Street banks, why didn’t debt and deficit matter? Why did no one ask, “how are you going to pay for it?”
Why didn’t debt and deficit matter when the U.S. military budget jumped from $600 billion annually to $716 billion annually in 2018? Why did no one ask, “how are you going to pay for it?”
Why didn’t debt and deficit matter when massive tax cuts were passed in 2017? Why did no one ask, “how are you going to pay for it?”
But there are also important corollary questions that need to be asked. Why is it whenever crumbling roads, or collapsing public bridges, or lead tainted, aging public water utilities, or any other infrastructure is in need of repair, the cry goes out? “Government debt and deficit are out of control!” “We are mortgaging our grandchildren!” “How are you going to pay for it?”
Why is it whenever Congressman Ryan bemoans the debt and deficit the immediate target of his concern is the public program called social security? Why does Congressman Ryan derisively label social security an “entitlement” rather than call it what it actually is – an earned benefit? Why do we suddenly hear, “how are you going to pay for it?”
Why is it whenever the need for a national public healthcare system – Medicare for all – is voiced, the screams arise. “How are you going to pay for it?” “The debt and deficit are out of control!”
We as a people – not as “Republicans” or “Democrats” – but we as a people seeking the good of all, need to ask these questions. Why is it whenever government funds are needed to support the interests of the wealthy there is no limit to the public money available, but where the needs of wage-earning Americans are concerned our government can afford to do nothing at all? We need to ask these questions.
Perhaps the spirit of America we all hope for was best expressed by Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia Corporation, when she learned her company would receive a $10 million windfall because of the 2017 tax cuts:
“We have always paid our fair share of federal and state taxes. Being a responsible company means paying your taxes in proportion to your success and supporting your state and federal governments, which in turn contribute to the health and well-being of civil society. Taxes fund our important public services, our first responders and our democratic institutions. Taxes protect the most vulnerable in our society, our public lands and other life-giving resources. In spite of this, the Trump administration initiated a corporate tax cut, threatening these services at the expense of our planet.
We recognize that our planet is in peril. We are committing all $10 million to groups committed to protecting air, land and water and finding solutions to the climate crisis.” “It will go a long way toward funding grassroots groups; including those dedicated to regenerative organic agriculture, which may be our greatest hope for reversing the damage done to our overheated planet.
In this season of giving, we are giving away this tax cut to the planet, our only home, which needs it now more than ever.”