Feed the Beast, Starve the People: What’s Really Been Going on with GOP Tax Policy and Strategy

Over the last July 4 holiday, in an infamous moment inspiring public outrage, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was captured on film enjoying a public beach with his family. His family were the only ones on the beach, as the beach had been closed to the public because the state, due largely to a Christie veto, had failed to pass a budget, preventing funds from being disbursed to public parks.

So, Christie was able to enjoy a private family day on the beach at the expense of New Jersey citizens, who had been given no reprieve from their state tax obligations but who, nonetheless, could not access the supposedly public services their taxes were funding.

While some have interpreted this scene as evidence of Christie’s simply no longer caring, we really need to understand it as more than an isolated political scandal. Rather, we need to understand this moment as emblematic of a larger GOP strategy evident not only in the current tax bill but also in other policies, such as healthcare, that involve government spending. And it’s not new to this Presidential administration but rather than an ongoing Republican project this administration adopted.

The dynamic we see at work might best be characterized as a “feed the beast, starve the people” strategy.

It is important to name this dynamic to recognize that the once dominant mantra of Americans for Tax Reform czar Grover Norquist, “Starve the beast,” is no longer the order of the day in conservative politics. Norquist was simply an anti-tax zealot who advocated for withering the state by starving it of revenues.

Now the order of the day is for congressional leaders to use government to enrich themselves while effectively feeding off the people who, as we see in Christie’s beach episode, continue to pay taxes for services they longer receive.

Sometimes this dynamic is masked by seductive tax cuts which actually end up leaving less in taxpayer’s wallets than if their taxes hadn’t been cut, as vital services their taxes used to pay for, working collectively with others’ taxes, get cut.

More obscenely, though, yet more characteristic of contemporary dynamics, is that we the taxpayer to continue paying taxes for fewer and fewer services, as those funds are going to feed the greed of a political class and wealthy elite working hand in hand.

Those of us living in the state of Illinois can explain this dynamic well, having lived it. We have fed the beast and been starved.

Up until last July when Republican legislators finally rebelled against Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and passed a budget, the state had been without a budget for two years and was beyond being on the verge of disaster; the state was and is a disaster, still reeling from a near total crumbling. Social services were gutted at great human expense to seniors, children, and families; and public educational institutions, particularly public universities and colleges, were not receiving their typical allocations, leading to thousands of layoffs and, by extension, higher tuitions and less programs and services.

Keep in mind that all of this happened not because the state didn’t have money. Illinois workers continued to have state taxes deducted from their paychecks, so the state had incoming revenue. Rather, because a budget had not been passed, monies could not be disbursed.

So, Illinois workers continued to pay the same taxes but received far less in public services such as education, healthcare, childcare services, and more, also leading to the unemployment of many state workers, worsening the situation.

Meanwhile, the bills the state wasn’t paying, not because it didn’t have money but because it didn’t have budget, were accruing hundreds of millions of dollars in late fees and interest, for which the taxpayers were on the hook but for which they were receiving no goods and services in return.

Taxpayers are feeding the beast but not getting what they’re paying for.  The intensified deficit spending, fueled by recent tax cuts to those least in need, will create a similar dynamic on the national level.

Following in Rauner’s footsteps, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez last April abused her veto power similarly, denying funding to higher education. Though later restored, the loss of funding would have resulted in higher tuitions and less programs across the board in public education.

On the national level, we can see this dynamic in the way the Federal Government has managed the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Well before Donald Trump announced last October he would completely stop paying the Obamacare subsidies, which helped keep health insurance premiums down and allowed companies to stay in the exchanges, Congress, according to former health insurance CEO J.B. Silvers, had already reneged on its promises to pay subsidies, having paid only 12% of its pledge. The result of Congress not disbursing the taxpayer money allotted for these subsidies, according to Silvers, was severe market de-stabilization that generated higher premiums and drove companies—and thus competition—out of the exchanges.

Again, taxpayers fulfilled their obligations, feeding the beast, but the beastly herd of politicians did not disburse those funds as promised, as they were allocated. Taxpayers feed the beast, and are starved in return.

Even the modest tax cuts the recent Tax Cut and Jobs Act offers to ordinary people—and for the some taxes will increase—promise to result, finally, in a debit. According to the

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Chicago Rally Reveals Economic and Human Damage of GOP’s Real Motives and Hypocrisy in ACA Repeal

“What is the best way to decimate a community? Deny its people access to healthcare.”

“What is the best way to decimate a community? Shut down its largest employer.”

These questions were asked and answered by Tim Egan, CEO of Chicago’s Roseland Community Hospital, last Sunday, January 15, as he opened his comments at a rally to defend the Affordable Care Act (ACA) against the GOP’s ongoing efforts to repeal it. Hosted by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) at its Chicago headquarters, the rally included such heavy-hitting speakers as Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, among others who shared their personal testimonies of how the ACA has literally saved their lives and how its repeal would certainly put their lives in danger.

Egan’s speech was particularly compelling because it highlighted the GOP’s hypocrisy when it comes to both improving the lives of average citizens and fostering fertile conditions for business. The Republicans like to represent themselves as the party with policies that help people by serving the interests of business, believing that policies that facilitate businesses by cutting taxes and eliminating regulations will improve the economy overall and create jobs, thus helping America’s working-class majority, regardless of how low-wage the jobs might be. Speaking as a corporate CEO, though, and not one of the American masses Republicans typically ignore, Egan made plain and clear that from the corporate perspective repealing the ACA would be devastating for business as well as people, threatening the very existence of his hospital, a primary employer in the Roseland community, not to mention millions of lives.

In her comments, Schakowsky emphatically reiterated this reality that GOP policies are neither pro-business nor pro-people, pointing out that if Republicans repeal the ACA, Illinois is projected to lose 117,000 jobs in 2019 and 33 billion dollars in federal funding between 2019 and 2022, a devastating blow to an already faltering Illinois economy Rauner has done nothing positive to improve. Highlighting GOP hypocrisy, Schakowsky called out Illinois Republican Governor for his silence on the issue of the potential ACA repeal and his refusal to speak out against it in defense of the Illinois economy and its citizenry.

So what is the point of Republican policy that seems both economically and humanly destructive? As I have argued previously on the pages of PoliticusUsa regarding the Republicans and Rauner in particular, we need to understand Republican scorched earth policies such as we have seen Rauner’s Illinois, Bobby Jindhal’s Louisiana, Sam Brownback’s Kansas, and Scott Walker’s Wisconsin as not pro-business but pro-wealthy. This distinction is of vital importance if we are to understand the GOP agenda. The Republican project, as I’ve argued, is to re-distribute wealth to the top, acceleratingly so, not to help business and by extension, perhaps, the working-class majority. Egan’s comments make this agenda clear.

Indeed, even the pro-business CNBC website has featured reports underscoring the far-reaching economic devastation and job-loss repealing the ACA would entail. Dan Mangan, for example, reports that according to a study from Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, the repeal of key provisions of the ACA would trigger massive job loss to the tune of potentially three million jobs in healthcare and other sectors as well as a 1.5 trillion reduction in gross state product from 2019 to 2023, triggering also a damaging slump in consumer spending. As Mangan puts it, “Spending less by getting rid of Obamacare could end up costing a whole lot more.”

So what’s the end game for Republicans? Well, according to Tony Nitti in a piece he contributed to Forbes (no left-wing rag), repealing Obamacare would result in an average tax savings of $33,000 for the wealthiest one percent of Americans, while those making between $10,000 and $75,000 would actually see their taxes increase—and millions would lose health insurance or have to pay astronomically more for it, effectively an additional tax increase. The end game is simply to give more to the wealthy, which is not the same thing as helping businesses or improving the health of the economy. (That the House GOP voted to conceal the costs of repealing the ACA from the public arguably underscores the repeal is not economically salubrious for the taxpayers and the nation.)

And the economic and human costs go together. At the Chicago rally, Tracy Trovato told the story of how her husband Carlo was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014. He has been cured after hundreds of thousands of dollars in treatment. Should the cancer return, however, and Obamacare were to be repealed, allowing insurance companies to re-instate lifetime caps on coverage, it is likely Carlo would not be able to afford treatment to save his life, or the Trovato family would endure absolute economic ruin. Trovato’s story makes clear the human and economic costs of repealing the ACA. Her family’s story is not singular but representative, and having widespread bankruptcy is not good for the health of our economy, not to mention our humanity.

We need to see that Obamacare is not a hand-out, but simply sound economic policy that serves both the American people as a whole and American business.

We also need to see that Republicans serve neither but simply want to accelerate the distribution of wealth to a speed that will break all of our necks, those of our working and middle classes and those of the business world.

GOP Governors Slash Education To Grow Their Ignorant Base 

Because Republicans depend on "the widespread ignorance of objective reality," their fascist threat to democracy is only succeeding due to the abundance of ignorance and gross stupidity of America's uneducated citizenry. Subsequently, Republicans are building on their success and slashing education funding at a record pace to produce an entire population of stupid conservative voters.