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“Bread and circuses.” The phrase dates back to the early Romans.
Emperor Augustus knew well that the best way to keep Rome’s struggling working class—then referred to as plebs or plebeians—from rioting in the streets was to keep them nominally well fed...and distracted.
President Donald Trump has provided us with more than enough circus-like distractions. But can he and his administration deliver the bread, meaning the promises made to put into place policies that will help today’s plebs—people like me, and perhaps you—as we try to maintain—or attain—middle class status?
The jury is out, but some of the evidence is in.
Let’s start with one of the biggest opportunities to enhance the lives of ordinary Americans—tax reform.
The Trump tax reform plan, according to the Tax Policy Center, would significantly reduce marginal tax rates on individuals and businesses. Sounds good. But wait! The largest benefits, in dollar and percentage terms, would go to the wealthiest among us.
If, say, you’re income is between $30,000 and $100,000 you’re going to save about $390 to $1,400 in taxes. But if you earn a million dollars or more, your savings skyrocket from $300,000 on up. As they say, money attracts money.
More to the point, such a plan, according to the TPC, would reduce federal revenues by $9.5 trillion over its first decade. That’s before accounting for added interest costs or considering macro economic feedback effects. Unless it is accompanied by very large spending cuts, it could increase the national debt by nearly 80 percent of gross domestic product by 2036.
Given that Mr. Trump is intent on increasing military spending, what part of the budget do you think those spending cuts will come from? Social programs, what else?
Now, in case you’re thinking that the government already spends too much on needy folks, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are social programs many Trump voters, maybe even you, rely on.
Although DJT has promised not to touch these entitlements, Congressional budget hawks—including Mr. Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price (R-Ga.), as well as Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-Wi)—think differently.
Privatizing these programs for seniors and disabled people, and turning the Medicaid program for the poor back to the states are long-time goals for Republicans in Congress and the White House. If this policy were enacted, the financial burden would shift to the states, giving each state the freedom to ignore requirements from the federal government. What do you think might happen in your state?
No argument, health care costs need to be reined in. The question is: who is going to pay the price?
Watch That Medicare!
Medicare, which covers roughly 57 million elderly and disabled Americans, and Medicaid, which covers more than 77 million people with low incomes, are among the biggest items in the federal budget, together costing an estimated $1 trillion in 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But they help support a lot of lives, maybe even yours or someone you know and love. Maybe even Trump voters!
Shall we go on?
Then there’s DJT’s plan to impose new border taxes that could cost consumers—you and me -- $1.2 trillion in taxes on imported goods, and cost investors even more.
We still haven’t definitively learned who’s going to pay for The Wall between the USA and Mexico. DJT promised to build this 2,000-mile long fence on our southern border with Mexico, you'll remember. And we don't know how his planned $1 trillion infrastructure program is going to be financed. Good guess is that it will end up to be us.
Oh, yeah, and if you think Trump’s plan to castrate the Dodd-Frank Act is a good idea, keep that thought in your frontal lobe the next time our financial institutions take us for another joy ride off the financial cliff. Haven’t they and our corporations figured out yet that we wouldn’t need all these friggin’ regs if they acted ethically, honestly and more responsibly towards the environment, their employees, clients, customers and communities?
Our current government would do well to learn that lesson, as well.
I could go on and on, but the bread is getting stale. Time for a little gladiatorial distraction.
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