(Editor’s Note: The print edition of The Columbia Paper had already gone to press late Wednesday afternoon when Rep. Faso announced that he would vote No on the House tax bill as currently written. I support his decision and thank him for his vote. The editorial as originally written is below.)
CONGRESSMAN JOHN FASO (R-19th) was on the phone for an hour this week with constituents from his 11-county district, fielding questions about the tax law changes moving through the House and Senate. The callers came from all parts of his district and none of them sounded pleased by what GOP leaders insist is tax reform, not even Mr. Faso.
He said he likes some parts of the bill and dislikes others, and he’s undecided how to vote. Not for long. On his “Live Town Meeting” Tuesday evening Rep. Faso said the House might vote on its tax plan by the end of this week.
As one polite caller after another questioned provisions in the bills, Mr. Faso politely responded with details. He spoke with nearly 20 callers in conversations that sounded like people heading for a train wreck they see coming but can’t avoid.
The first caller asked why the complex legislation was on such a fast track and Mr. Faso replied that the House bill had undergone “four full days” of debate and builds on the work of previous years. Mr. Faso, who was once the minority leader of the state Assembly, knows that whatever was done before, it takes more than four days of debate to rewrite thousands of pages of the federal tax code. Maybe he thought everyone would get the joke.
The decision in the House to eliminate the deduction for state and cap property taxes $10,000 is one concern that Rep. Faso shared with several callers. He opposes that plan as “double taxation.” But he also said that the proposed increase in the standard deduction–up to $24,000 for a married couple–would outweigh what many taxpayers in his district save by deducting their state and local taxes.
So he opposes proposals to cut the deduction for state and local taxes in principle, but he believes it would probably help middle class taxpayers. That’s confusing. Would it be clearer if there had been more debate?
President Trump has told the Republican leaders in Congress that he wants to sign a tax bill by Christmas. That will only be possible if the bills of the House and the Senate are identical. That’s tough. The Senate bill would end the individual mandate for health insurance coverage, a move that would likely raise rates for insurance under the Affordable Care Act–Obamacare and cause many people to lose their coverage.
A caller from Ulster County asked Rep. Faso about that provision in the Senate bill. “I do not agree on including that in the bill,” he told her and then added that he does want to see similar changes in the Affordable Care Act in separate legislation. Congress tried that not so long ago. What is different now?
A couple of callers feared what would happen if the tax bill eliminates the deduction for medical expenses. Rep. Faso said most people don’t have high enough medical expenses to benefit from that tax break. A caller from Amenia in Dutchess County who’s retired said his wife had a stroke and he has $30,000 in medical bills. He said if he loses the medical deduction and the deduction for the state and local taxes, “I’m going to wind up losing my home.” Mr. Faso said the House bill does not propose ending medical expense deductions.
A caller from Rensselaer who described himself as having worked for decades on state tax matters said that tax credits in the bill for child exemptions would phase out after five years. Rep. Faso said the caller is correct but that those credits would be renewed. As for the letting the child credits expire, the congressman said, “No Congress would do that.”
Take him at his word. Then ask what do any of the tax bill figures mean? How about the $1.7 trillion this bill would add to the national debt over the next decade? The tax bill is in part a statement of what a law will cost, except that Rep. Faso assured the caller Congress will fix the law later. What will it cut to stick to the budget?
Callers who questioned the deficit and the national debt received assurances that economic growth will follow proposed corporate tax rate cuts despite evidence that this hope is hot air and wishful thinking.
Rep. Faso’s conservative ideals are anchored in layers of wiggle room. That’s politics. But sometimes it’s not about which way you’re leaning. It’s about knowing when a bill is bad for your constituents and voting No.