Tax Bill Will Unravel New Deal Protections


by Nick Taylor

Why would Republicans pass a “tax reform” bill that rewards corporations and the rich at the expense of most of the rest of the country? To unravel New deal protections. They’ve tried  for eighty years to destroy President Franklin Roosevelt’s (FDR’s) New Deal and restore the government for rich people that preceded FDR’s reforms.  This tax bill threatens New Deal protections because it inflates the deficit and will trigger demands to cut government services we all depend upon.

The New Deal rewrote the compact between America’s government and its citizens.  It recognized for the first time the responsibility the nation bore for its people.  The Great Depression of the 1930s exposed the the need to give workers and the old and unemployed a fighting chance and to protect them from the wide swings and uncertainties of unfettered laissez faire economics. Today Republicans call it free market economics. They insist that going back to the standards that led to the Great Depression is a good thing.

Tax Bill Will Unravel New Deal Protections
FDR and a farmer in Georgia, National Archive Photo, Roosevelt Library

Social Security grew out of that need and recognition.  So did unemployment insurance, wage and hour laws, restrictions on child labor, and laws that allowed collective bargaining.  The government insured people’s savings accounts and stopped banks from gambling with their depositors’ money. I wrote about this in my 2008 book, American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of The WPA, When Roosevelt Put The Nation To Work.

Tax Bill Will Unravel New Deal Protections

Big businesses, corporations, the rich, and some with honest political beliefs that providing a safety net is wrong, have been circling the New Deal like jackals ever since.

The tax bill fifty-one Republican senators passed in the pre-dawn hours of December 2, with no public hearings, no bipartisan participation and scribbled amendments to buy off reluctant members, is only a start.  They, their House counterparts, and the Trump administration aim to bring down a legacy of progressive legislation that includes: protections for elderly citizens, the sick, the unemployed, consumers, union members, low-wage workers, voters, women, racial and sexual minorities, our public lands and air and water.  

Programs that helped create and sustain a broad democracy and the greatest and most prosperous middle class in the history of the world may soon be ripped to shreds. 

Who is behind it and why?

Why?  To keep the money flowing.  Donors like the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and Robert and Rebekah Mercer mirror the rich man’s anti-New Deal coalition called the Liberty League.  It formed in 1934 backed by du Pont gunpowder and J.P. Morgan banking money.  The du Ponts alone poured almost a million dollars into the 1936 Republican campaign, money used in some cases to incite racism and racism.  Steve Bannon would have been proud.  Then, as now, there were no effective limits on campaign contributions. Shadowy groups acting on their own gave the league the cover of deniability.  Officially, it promised an “unremitting” fight against “government encroachment upon the rights of citizens.” The script hasn’t changed one bit.

Other distant echoes reverberate in this first year of Trump.  Lammot du Pont argued that “all government regulation of business . . . should be abolished.”  He pressed his case in millions of pamphlets and the new technology of radio, harnessed via nationwide broadcasts made on purchased time.  

Irénée du Pont was talking about makers vs. takers way back then.  He said, “The Roosevelt administration practices the socialistic maxim ‘work like hell so that the parasites may get the benefit of your labor.'” When FDR and the Democrats complained about the yawning gap between the richest Americans and all the rest, Republicans charged them with waging class warfare.  That script remains the same as well.

Reading socialism or worse into the New Deal was standard fare.  Worse was represented by Al Smith, the former New York governor and Democratic presidential candidate who lost to Herbert Hoover in 1928. 

Photo in Public Domain

Smith had become reactionary in the extreme. On the eve of the 1936 election, he railed that Roosevelt was sowing the seeds for communist control of the United States. Speaking in Albany, NY, he said the New Deal was using taxpayer’s money “to train young men to go out and preach communism, to preach the gospel of ‘down with property, down with capital, down with government, down with church, yes, down with God.'”

“Down with government” is today’s Republican mantra in a nutshell.  Oddly, or maybe not oddly at all, Smith’s 1936 accusations are the bedrock of Republican rhetoric repeated over and over on Fox and Breitbart and the rest of the right-wing talk machine.

The tax bill the Republicans just passed will add $1 trillion to the national debt, so the double-speak narrative they’ve shaped will blame government for overspending and then try to carve the guts out of what have been fundamental facts of life for most Americans for at least three generations.

But FDR won 48 states in that 1936 election and 523 electoral votes to two. And the 2018 mid-term elections are less than a year away. So this means if you care about Social Security, unemployment insurance, wage and hour laws, Medicare our national parks and environment, safe drinking water and clean air, seriously think about who voted for the current tax bill that will undermine all of the things you value. 

 If you don’t like what Congress is doing, let your Senators and Representatives know.  Here’s how:

 Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121and ask for them. You can find your U.S. Representative here.

And your U.S. Senators here

And plan to vote in 2018.