National Politics

Casey on tax bill: ‘This is just a giveaway to the super-rich’

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., was busy on Thursday.

He bounced from a committee hearing on the opioid crisis to voting on a motion on the tax reconciliation act to a speech on the Senate floor about the tax bill. He did a Facebook Live chat with a Latino organization about the tax bill. He presented an amendment to the tax bill.

In between all off that, he was talking to the press. He talked to television stations from back home in Pennsylvania. He scheduled quick interviews with reporters from news agencies, including the Centre Daily Times. He made it known that he felt the Republican tax reform proposal barreling toward a Friday vote was not unfolding the way it should.

“It seems like it’s more likely to pass than not,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, it could lead to a better process, a more bipartisan process.”

Casey wants hearings. He says he needs more information, back-and-forth negotiation, a give-and-take from both sides. He remembers the months of wrangling on Obamacare, but says, really, that’s not even what he’s pining for.

“A better comparison would be what happened in the mid-1980s,” he said.

He recalled, as he did on the Senate floor Wednesday, 27 hearings on President Ronald Reagan’s 500-page tax plan and another six hearings on a proposal from the House of Representatives. He told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he’d settle for 10 or 15.

The plan does things like double the standard deduction but eliminate personal exemptions. It makes changes to the child tax credit and tax brackets. It would make major changes to business taxes, including slashing corporate rates and changing taxes for businesses that cross borders.

The Republicans say it will spur the economy, create jobs and put more money in middle-class pockets. The Democrats say exactly the opposite.

The Joint Committee on Taxation released a dynamic score of the proposal Thursday. It estimates a 0.8 percent increase in gross domestic product over the 10-year life of the plan, with employment up by 0.6 percent, but that would fall again when built-in provisions expire. The impact on spending is expected to be the same, 0.6 percent.

The JCT says it will increase the nation’s deficit by $1 trillion over 10 years, which is better than the Congressional Budget Office’s $1.4 billion estimate.

And that’s why Casey would like to spend more time on it before voting.

Don’t get him wrong. It’s not just the process he doesn’t like. He is definitely not a fan of the legislation.

“This bill is bad on substance,” Casey said.

He doesn’t agree with the ideas behind it.

“To say that tax reform is critically necessary is correct,” Casey said. “This isn’t tax reform. This is just a giveaway to the super-rich. This doesn’t make the tax code simpler or fairer. There’s a pretty good argument that this will make the wage situation for a lot of Americans worse. This outsourcing problem where jobs are shipped overseas and investment shipped overseas will get worse, not better.”

He recently called the bill “a thief in the night,” and he stands by that assessment, especially in combination with one of the components — elimination of the individual mandate for health insurance.

“Add the two together and it’s robbing from people and its doing it in essence in the middle of the night, ramming it through,” he said. “Some people will get a huge tax increase, not a deduction.”

Casey, the son of two-term Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey Sr., is a former state auditor general and treasurer. He is in his second term in the Senate and has become a growing voice in the Democratic party.

He has been very vocal about his opposition to things this year such as President Donald Trump’s cabinet picks and their actions and the attempts to repeal Obamacare, but has also supported Trump’s positions at times. He’s voted for Trump-supported issues like disaster relief and appropriations, and didn’t stand in the way of the confirmation of 11 appointments, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

He is up for re-election in the 2018 mid-terms, and already has a number of Republicans clamoring for his job, not the least of which is U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazleton).

But Casey didn’t want to talk about that. He wanted to talk about the tax bill, at least until he got pulled back into a committee meeting. He might think it’s going to pass, but he wasn’t prepared to just give up the fight.

“I would hope those on the fence would consider how little this does for the middle class and how weighted it is for the wealthy and corporations,” he said. “But I have to go.”

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce