With so many biased voices and differing opinions about our nation’s move toward massive tax reform, many of us wonder who to listen to. The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” bill is headed for reconciliation in a Congressional conference committee, comprised of a handful of members from the House and the Senate.
Tax reform will impact everyone in the U.S., an estimated 322,762, 018 people. The reckless speed at which this life-changing legislation is moving requires us, as followers of Christ, to speak up about the reform’s impact on the most vulnerable in our society.
At the same time, Congress struggles to come to terms with a federal spending bill, hurriedly passing a short-term measure to avoid a government shutdown at midnight Dec. 8. They’ll have to grapple with the issue before Christmas to avert another government shutdown Dec. 22. This is no way to govern a healthy democracy.
For an authentic source in evaluating the latest legislative proposals in Congress, turn to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which judges legislation on the basis of whether it serves the common good – not a political party. The principle of the common good refers to “the total sum of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1906)
Taking a lead role for the USCCB is Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., who chairs the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. The USCCB has issued three letters in a short time on the proposed overhaul of our tax system. A letter dated Nov. 9 applied moral principles to the House tax reform bill and a Nov. 22 letter applied the same principles to the Senate legislation. On Dec. 6, Bishop Dewane penned another letter stating that both the House and Senate tax reform bills “raise taxes on the poor and cut taxes on the rich, violating basic principles of justice.”
Here is a synopsis of changes that he said would ensure a morally acceptable tax bill:
• Retain the proposed doubling of the standard deduction. This would positively impact some families, including many facing economic challenges.
• Avoid raising taxes on the working poor. The Senate and House bills would cause a tax increase for taxpayers in lower income brackets while maintaining tax cuts for higher earners, including the wealthy.
• Restore the personal exemption to avoid penalizing many larger families with more than three children. A proposed family flexibility credit would be insufficient.
• Increase the Child Tax Credit as much as possible and increase the refundable portion of the tax credit. Remove the requirement for taxpayers to provide social security numbers to claim the credit.
• Retain and expand the deduction for medical expenses. The House eliminates the deduction while the Senate lowers the floor for the deduction, making it available to more people with significant medical expenses – until the end of 2019.
• Retain the incentive for adoption assistance.
• Include tax incentives for paid family medical leave, but exclude the sunset on the incentives.
• Move forward with an increase in above-the-line deductions for educator expenses and with an extension of benefits for 529 savings plans. Retain both an education assistance measure and one that applies to qualified tuition reductions.
• Retain the Affordable Care Act individual insurance mandate. Changes in health care policy require a comprehensive approach to protect against millions of additional people becoming uninsured.
• Adopt an “above-the-line” charitable deduction that would incentivize and assist charitable giving at all income levels. Increase the amounts people can give.
• Retain housing bonds that go towards development of low-income housing. Additional measures are necessary to avoid stifling development of low-income housing due to a lower corporate tax rate.
• Leave in place the current Alternative Minimum Tax and the estate tax. This will ensure that risks taken in tax reform fall on those who stand most to benefit rather than those living on society’s margins.
To keep informed through an authentic source, visit the USCCB website at www.usccb.org. Then take it a step further and advocate for legislation that serves the common good. Contact members of Congress at www.congress.gov.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor