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Monday, December 4, 2017

Following tax bill vote, activists rally against 'Senator Grinch' Kennedy

Posted By on Mon, Dec 4, 2017 at 4:20 PM

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Under the trees in front of the Hale-Boggs Federal Building on Poydras Street, activists from Step Up Louisiana, the Metairie chapter of national progressive group Indivisible, Democratic Socialists of America and other groups gathered to sing a song to a grinch.

Circling around a stuffed green doll from popular holiday story How the Grinch Stole Christmas, they sang "We Wish You Hadn't Passed It," a song written for the occasion to the tune of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

"We're angry and sad / about your tax plan," they sang. "We wish you hadn't passed it / this is a scam."

The grinch was a stand-in for U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy, who organizers were castigating for his vote for the Senate Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which passed the chamber early Saturday. (A demonstration against U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, who also would go on to vote for the bill, took place last week.) Speakers at the rally criticized the bill for what they say are its reverberating effects on health care coverage (including a potential $25 billion cut to Medicare in 2018 and its repeal of the Affordable Care Act's individual insurance mandate), as well as their general sense that the bill is a giveaway to corporations, who will see their tax rates slashed, rather than individuals. 

"Who needs a break? Who is this tax bill giving a break to?" Frances Gill, a member of Democratic Socialists of America, said. "This bill is not about growth. ... It's about looting the American social contract for political and social gain."

About 30 people, some in Santa hats, convened to for the event to spotlight Kennedy at his New Orleans office. They chanted "Dignity, respect! This tax bill, what the heck!" and "No tax cuts for corporations; working families make this nation!" as CBD workers in suits and ties passed by. Organizers had planned to deliver a letter outlining their objections to the tax plan to the senator's office, but that plan was scrapped when a member of the U.S. marshals service that protects the building reportedly said no one was in the office at that time.

"You, Senator, continue to support these pernicious 'trickle-down' policies," the groups wrote in their letter. "What message can we take from this other than that you are more invested in the interests of your wealthy donors than to the realities and needs of your constituency?"

Further demonstrations against the tax bills, hosted by the New Orleans chapter of Indivisible, are planned beginning Wednesday through the weekend. The streak of rallies reflects widespread voter unease with this fall's GOP-led tax reform initiatives, which a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that just 25 percent of voters approve of. Both Senate and House versions of the tax bill have come under fire for what critics say is a rushed process and a lack of public hearings on major legislation that could have a domino effect on different aspects of government spending.

Kennedy, a longtime proponent of tax reform, issued a statement celebrating the bill's passage in the Senate.

"It doesn't take an expert to see what's stalling the American economy: middle-class families need to see more of their hard-earned dollars in their bank accounts," he said, citing the bill's doubling of the standard deduction and Child Tax Credit, as well as its repeal of the requirement that people carry health insurance, as benefits for Louisianans.

However, a variety of reports has indicated mixed benefits for most working households in both House and Senate versions of tax reform. Analyzing the House plan, the Urban Institute/Brookings Insitution's Tax Policy Center found that the bulk of tax benefits would accrue to households in the 95th-99th percentile of the income distribution. By 2027, when most of the tax cuts are set to expire, families in the lowest income quartile would see their taxes rise. (Here's a calculator to help check how tax reform might immediately affect your income group, with some helpful notes on deductions.)

Individual mandate repeal also could play havoc with health insurance markets. In an analysis published last year, the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation found that a rollback of the requirement would cause a "substantial" reduction in the number of people who carry health insurance, and could drive up premiums by as much as 20 percent outside of the federal health care marketplaces.

Maria Harmon, Step Up Louisiana co-director, says the bill's potential negative impact on access to health care reflects the multiplier effect of policy on the state's less fortunate.

"The low-income people always are negatively affected ... it's just about a well-rounded quality of life that we're being deprived of," she says. "It's all intersectional at the end of the day."

If the tax bill is signed into law — which looks likely at this point — she says the group will continue highlighting its effects with public actions, and linking legislation to the lawmakers who supported it.

"All we can do is just keep pushing, and continue with these protests to educate the public," she said. "Laws change every day ... [and] 2018 elections are right around the corner."

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