WASHINGTON – In the beginning, there were alternative facts. Now we are being governed in an alternate reality.
Heading toward approval of their tax bill this week, House Republicans had a teensy problem: Their vaunted tax “cut” actually was a tax hike for millions of Americans. It lowered taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars on the wealthiest, but it raised the lowest tax rate and, official congressional arbiters determined, raised taxes on a good chunk of the middle class as well.
Awkward! Particularly because a long-standing House rule, put in place by Republicans after Newt Gingrich’s 1994 takeover, requires that any “income tax rate increase may not be considered as passed … unless so determined by a vote of not less than three-fifths of the members voting.”
So Republicans did the honorable thing: They snuck in a provision that allowed them, with a simple majority vote, to declare that the three-fifths requirement “shall not apply.” Problem solved.
This is but one example of an unnerving trend in the Trump era: Ignore the rules and disqualify the referees who were put in place to enforce standards of integrity.
Just two months ago, President Donald Trump promised that “the rich will not be gaining at all” under the tax bill, and “it’ll be the largest tax decrease in the history of our country for the middle class.”
It is exactly the opposite. The bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) found that the rich would get a handsome tax break under the House bill, but those earning $20,000 to $40,000 and $200,000 to $500,0000 would get an increase. On Thursday, the JCT, the official congressional arbiter of tax legislation, determined that the Senate version of the bill would give large tax cuts to millionaires but raise taxes on families earning between $10,000 and $75,000.
And so Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, author of the Senate tax bill, attempted to discredit the bicameral, bipartisan JCT. “Anyone who says we’re hiking taxes on low-income families is misstating the facts,” he said.
And Hatch is the vice chairman of the JCT! The chairman is also Republican, as are a majority of the members.
Leaving aside Hatch’s particular dispute (about whether to count a loss of Obamacare subsidies as a tax increase for those who opt out), there is no denying the larger point in the JCT’s calculation: Whether you technically classify certain things as taxes or not, this “tax cut” would have the effect of making the rich richer and a large swath of the middle class poorer. Instead of acknowledging that, Republicans are attempting to disqualify the umpire they put in place.
Something similar is happening now with the nominations of judges. In all administrations since Dwight Eisenhower’s (except George W. Bush’s) the American Bar Association (ABA) has been vetting prospective judicial nominees’ legal qualifications before they are nominated. Now the Trump administration is ignoring the ABA pre-screening, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is no longer waiting to have their professional qualifications vetted before confirmation hearings. The New York Times reports that the White House is “weighing” telling future nominees not to cooperate with ABA evaluators. And this week, the White House issued a news release highlighting an editorial saying “the Senate continues to give the lawyers’ guild too much sway.”
When the Trump administration and congressional allies aren’t attacking the JCT and the ABA, they’re attacking the CBO – the Congressional Budget Office, the bipartisan arbiter of how much legislation costs, now led by a Republican appointee. When White House budget director Mick Mulvaney earlier this year didn’t like the CBO’s “score” of health-care legislation, he asked: “Has the day of the CBO come and gone?”
Now, some Republicans are attempting to do the same to the special counsel. After Robert S. Mueller III’s recent indictments of Trump campaign advisers, three House members introduced a resolution calling for Mueller’s resignation.
And of course, there is Roy Moore, who has responded to voluminous accusations of impropriety with children by attempting to discredit the press – dovetailing with Trump’s “fake-news” attacks.
Should Moore make it to the Senate, we can expect worse. He openly defied the U.S. Supreme Court when he was a state judge, and he has made clear he believes the Constitution is subordinate to his interpretation of God’s law.
As Trump and his allies lay waste to their own rules, the media, the CBO, the ABA, the JTC and the courts, let’s ask ourselves: After they’ve disqualified all arbiters of truth, what will we have left?
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.