There’s an expression: Getting drunk is like borrowing happiness from the future. You always pay it back the next day — with interest.
As the Senate passed their tax bill Saturday morning at 1:50 a.m. with 51 votes, it’s clear that Republicans are in the midst of a heavy night of drinking that they'll have to pay for in the future.
For weeks, the discussions around tax reform in the House and Senate have run the gamut. There have been heated exchanges where Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, referred to Democrats’ arguments as “bullcrap.” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., compared belief in trickle-down economics to believing in unicorns or that Tupac is still alive. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., informed the Democratic opposition that they were “overcooking my grits.” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, quoted Tacitus.
It's been a very thorough and expansive discussion, but it's conspicuously lacking one thing: self-awareness.
Democrats unironically opposed the plan on the grounds that it increases the deficit. They also argue that the plan will have a massive, lasting impact, but has been put together hastily with zero bipartisan support. They said they didn’t even have time to read it before voting.
Do these arguments sound familiar? They should. They formed the Republican chorus against Obamacare in 2009. What’s shocking is that no lawmakers seem to remember.
The Affordable Care Act passed with just one GOP vote in the House and with zero votes in the Senate early on the morning of Christmas Eve, 2009. And of course, we all remember Nancy Pelosi's famous remark that the 1,000+ page bill had to be passed before we could see what was in it. There was a song and dance about collaboration, but it was a farce.
With this lack of bipartisan support, it's no wonder that the law has had to endure three Supreme Court cases, countless fights against Medicaid expansion in the states, multiple votes to repeal, as well as getting seven years worth of Republicans elected in order to change the law. Now, with this Republican tax plan, Obamacare’s individual mandate — cornerstone of the whole law — may possibly be nixed.
The real question is not whether one side’s complaint has more virtue than the other. The problem is that each party is committing the exact same discourtesy to each other. Then, blinded by self-righteousness, they can't even admit it to themselves.
In truth, Democrats in 2009 found themselves in a similar situation as Republicans today. Healthcare reform was a key promise of Barack Obama's campaign. So when he was elected, along with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, the message from Democratic voters was clear: get this done ... or else.
No doubt, Republicans were under the gun to get this legislative victory. They thought that if they broke their promise to reform the tax code, they'd be skewered by their voters. And they were right. Republicans have controlled Congress and the White House for almost a year and don't have much “But Gorsuch” to show for it.
The apparent failure of both Republicans and Democrats to see these similarities is cause for alarm. Democrats overplayed their hand and were willing to jam Obamacare through — by hook or by crook. Now that Republicans are in power, they’re doing the same thing with tax reform. They are too drunk on finally getting a win that they're not considering the inevitable future of a Democratic majority. Just as Republicans have tried to kill Obamacare in every way imaginable (except to actually repeal it), Democrats will come after the provisions of this plan, too.
Both sides questioned whether Obamacare or the proposed tax plan actually “work.” Are they financially viable? Do the plans deliver on their promises? Reasonable minds can disagree on these points. But what we can all agree is that neither of them work as a half-measure. Obamacare without the individual mandate and Medicaid expansion is a bust. The Republican tax plan will not work with half the deductions added back in, or the corporate rates jacked back above the international average. And sure as you're born, that's what Democrats will do to the tax code whenever they come to power again.
The vindictive cycle of our policymakers is a dysfunction that should disappoint us all. But it also should be a wake-up call to voters. After all, we are the ones sending people to Washington with a mandate to crush our political opponents in the same way that they crushed us. We can't keep acting like irresponsible drunks ringing up debts with the future as though the bills will never come due. Democrats made that mistake and woke up hungover in 2016 to a Republican landslide.
The fact that lawmakers stick it to others on our behalf is a clear symptom of a problem. It’s not just casual and “we can quit whenever we want.” It may be time for a national intervention so we can get the help we need.
Caroline D'Agati (@carodagati) is a writer based in Washington, D.C. She holds a BA in English from Georgetown and an MA in Media Studies from The New School.
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