It is so hard to be a billionaire these days!
A new yacht can cost $300 million. And you wouldn’t believe what a pastry chef earns — and if you hire just one, to work weekdays, how can you possibly survive on weekends?
The investment income on, say, a $4 billion fortune is a mere $1 million a day, which makes it tough to scrounge by with today’s rising prices. Why, some wealthy folks don’t even have a home in the Caribbean and on vacation are stuck brooding in hotel suites: They’re practically homeless!
Fortunately, President Trump and the Republicans are coming along with some desperately needed tax relief for billionaires.
Thank God for this lifeline to struggling tycoons. And it’s carefully crafted to focus the benefits on the truly deserving — the affluent who earn their tax breaks with savvy investments in politicians.
For example, eliminating the estate tax would help the roughly 5,500 Americans who now owe this tax each year, one-fifth of 1 percent of all Americans who die annually. Ending the tax would help upstanding people like the Trumps who owe their financial success to brilliant life choices, such as picking the uterus in which they were conceived. Now it’s fair to complain that the tax plan over all doesn’t give needy billionaires quite as much as they deserve. For example, the top 1 percent receive only a bit more than 25 percent of the total tax cuts in the Senate bill, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
Really? Only 25 times their share of the population? After all those dreary $5,000-a-plate dinners supporting politicians? If politicians had any guts, they’d just slash services for low-income families so as to finance tax breaks for billionaires.
Oh, wait, that’s exactly what’s happening!
Trump understands, for example, that health insurance isn’t all that important for the riffraff. So he and the Senate G.O.P. have again targeted Obamacare, this time by trying to repeal the insurance mandate. The Congressional Budget Office says this will result in 13 million fewer people having health insurance.
But what’s the big deal? The United States already has an infant mortality rate twice that of Austria and South Korea. American women are already five times as likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as women in Britain. So who’ll notice if things get a bit worse?
Perhaps that sounds harsh. But the blunt reality is that we risk soul-sucking dependency if we’re always setting kids’ broken arms. Maybe that’s why congressional Republicans haven’t bothered to renew funding for CHIP, the child health insurance program serving almost nine million American kids. Ditto for the maternal and home visiting programs that are the gold standard for breaking cycles of poverty and that also haven’t been renewed. We mustn’t coddle American toddlers.
Hey, if American infants really want health care, they’ll pick themselves up by their bootee straps and Uber over to an emergency room.
Congressional Republicans understand that we can’t do everything for everybody. We have to make hard choices. Congress understands that kids are resilient and can look after themselves, so we must focus on the most urgent needs, such as those of hand-to-mouth billionaires.
In fairness, Congress has historically understood this mission. The tax code subsidizes moguls with private jets while the carried interest tax break gives a huge tax discount to striving private equity zillionaires. Meanwhile, a $13 billion annual subsidy for corporate meals and entertainment gives ditch diggers the satisfaction of buying Champagne for financiers.
Our political leaders are so understanding because we appear to have the wealthiest Congress we’ve ever had, with a majority of members now millionaires, so they understand the importance of cutting health insurance for the poor to show support for the crème de la crème.
Granted, the G.O.P. tax plan will add to the deficit, forcing additional borrowing. But if the tax cut passes, automatic “pay as you go” rules may helpfully cut $25 billion from Medicare spending next year, thus saving money on elderly people who are practically dead anyway. If poor kids have to suffer, we may as well make poor seniors suffer as well. That’s called a balanced policy.
More broadly, you have to look at the reason for deficits. Yes, it’s problematic to borrow to pay for, say, higher education or cancer screenings. But what’s the problem with borrowing $1.5 trillion to invest in urgent tax relief for billionaires?
Anyway, at some point down the road we’ll find a way to pay back the debt by cutting a wasteful program for runny-nose kids who aren’t smart enough to hire lobbyists. There must be some kids’ program that still isn’t on the chopping block.
The tax bill underscores a political truth: There’s nothing wrong with redistribution when it’s done right.
<NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF