Tax bill sparks protest Tuesday at Barrasso officeDec 20, 2017 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer
A handful of people gathered Tuesday morning in Riverton to protest the tax reform bill that was approved Wednesday in a final vote by the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Fremont County Democratic Party organized the protest, which was held in front of Republican U.S. Sen. John Barrasso's Riverton office at 324 E. Washington Ave.
Local party chairman Kevin Wilson said he chose the location in order to highlight Barrasso's decision not to solicit feedback from area residents about the tax bill through events such as town hall meetings.
"If (he) will not hold a town hall to hear the concerns of the working people of Fremont County, we will bring the town hall to him," Wilson said. "(We) feel disrespected that we have not been consulted. ... He's insulating himself from the people he's supposed to be representing."
Instead, Wilson said, Barrasso is accountable to his donors - most of whom reside outside of Wyoming, according to the Federal Elections Commission.
In 2017, the FEC said, only 70 out of 2,000 contributors to John Barrasso and the Friends of John Barrasso Committee were from Wyoming; the year before, 88 of his 662 donors were from Wyoming.
"He's funded primarily (by) out-of-state donations, and that seems to be the people he's answering to now," Wilson said, calling the tax bill "an unmitigated disaster for the people of Fremont County" that is going to be "terrible" for middle class and working class Americans.
The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the bill will add almost $1.5 trillion to the country's deficit over the next 10 years. If that is the case, published reports indicate legislators will be forced to make cuts to social programs, perhaps including Medicare, based on laws designed to prevent deficit spending.
"To pay for these massivetaxcuts for the wealthy, Republicans will next start attacking Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and many of the programs the elderly and less fortunate rely on," Wilson said.
A Tuesday report from USA Today says corporations will receive a 40 percent tax cut as part of the legislation, and the top 1 percent of taxpayers will receive 20 percent of the benefits of the tax bill next year.
Lower-income people will see a benefit too, however, with the same report indicating smaller businesses' tax burdens will be affected "significantly," while more than 90 percent of middle-income people will see more than a $1,000 tax cut next year.
In an opinion piece written last week, Barrasso echoed those statistics, adding that the non-partisan Tax Foundation estimates the average Wyoming family will see their after-tax income rise by more than $2,500 under the Senate's plan, and a couple making between about $19,000 and $77,000 will see its tax rate fall from 15 percent to 12 percent.
In a Tuesday speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Barrasso said the legislation also doubles the standard deduction for taxpayers, thereby simplifying the payment process by allowing more people to avoid filling out the itemized deduction form.
"A lot of people ... gather up their receipts and fill out extra forms ... trying to find the deductions they can take," he said. "Under this tax relief plan they can choose to take this much-higher standard deduction and not have to spend all that additional time looking through the shoe box of receipts. ... This is going to make tax filing a whole lot simpler for lots and lots of Americans."
Currently, he said, about 70 percent of people choose the standard deduction when they pay their taxes. Under the new tax bill, he said more than 90 percent of people will use the simplified form.
"They'll be able to keep more of their money and use their time doing something else they actually enjoy doing instead of filling out forms and sending money to the federal government," he said.
Health care mandate
The bill also doubles the child tax credit, Barrasso noted Tuesday, and it eliminates the penalty for people who don't purchase health insurance.
"In my home state of Wyoming over 16,000 people ended up with that fine," Barrasso said, estimating the average penalty amounted to $700 per person per year under the Affordable Care Act. "These people will now get a tax break."
He added that the move doesn't "take away" peoples' health insurance, "as the Democrats claim."
"It just says no one has to pay an extra tax because they decide overpriced Obamacare insurance isn't right for them," he said.
Wilson says repealing the health insurance mandate will "wreak havoc on our health care system and deny healthcare to many in need in Fremont County."
He said tribal representatives weren't consulted about the change.
"The repeal of the individual mandate can affect a lot of people's health care on the reservation," he said. Spokeswoman Laura Mengel-kamp said Barrasso makes "every effort" to make himself and his staff available to discuss the tax bill and any legislation with all of the people of Wyoming. And in Tuesday's speech, Barrasso said the process of developing the tax bill has taken place over the course of several years, including 70 committee hearings, floor debate and hundreds of amendments offered.
Wilson also was critical of the bill's affect on the estate tax: Published reports indicate the legislation doubles the threshold for inheritances exempt from taxation.
"This is one of the most ... transparent bills in favor of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans that we've seen in generations."
s," Wilson said. "That's what got us out today, is just how skewed this bill is in favor of the wealthy."
In his opinion piece, however, Barrasso said the changes to the estate tax exemption will benefit more family farms, ranches and other small businesses.
"This will help to relieve some of the stress families face when trying to keep the business in the family," he wrote. "The tax legislation will be good for jobs and investment in our communities."
He believes the legislation will encourage larger businesses to invest their profits in the United States instead of overseas, making those companies more competitive globally while also creating jobs locally. Barrasso pointed to a report earlier this month from the National Federation of Independent Business that said more firms are planning to create jobs based on the passage of the tax reform bill.
"The Tax Foundation estimates that the law will lead to 925,000 new jobs across the country - 1,800 of them in Wyoming," Barrasso continued. "Many of these jobs will be in Main Street businesses."
He also cited a survey by the National Association of Manufacturers, which found more than half of the companies questioned said they will expand their business and hire more workers because of the Republican tax relief plan.
Regardless, Wilson doesn't think the benefits - to larger companies in particular - will have a positive impact on workers.
"(These) corporations ... are already sitting on trillions of dollars worth of capital they're not investing in their companies," he said. "(Saying) that this is going to bring jobs back to America is all transparent lies."
Wilson encouraged Wyoming residents to contact Barrasso and other federal representatives about the tax legislation and other issues by sending emails, making phone calls or visiting with local spokespeople.
He said the best method of enacting change, though, resides in local polling stations.
"The most effective thing that can be done to beat these things is by electing people who don't take all this money from corporate lobbyists - people who are more responsive to the people," Wilson said. "That's really the only way we're going to stop a lot of this stuff for good."
He invited local residents to contact the Fremont County Democratic Party if they're interested in running for office.
"(We want) to recruit good candidates to run against these people who represent the worst in our political system and the status quo," he said. "Our main focus ... is to elect good, honest, honorable candidates who will represent the people they serve and not represent corporations, millionaires and billionaires."
He mentioned Democrat Gary Trauner, who will challenge Barrasso in next year's election.
"(Trauner) fights for progressive causes, and he has absolutely no need of funding from millionaires and billionaires for his campaign," Wilson said. "He's proven he won't take the big donations that make you compromise your integrity in favor of the lobbyists."
The Democrats also seek help from residents willing to knock on doors and encourage people to vote.
"The more people that come out and vote, the better the Democrats do every time," Wilson said.
For more information, visit turnfremontblue.com, or attend party meetings that take place 1-3 p.m. on the third Sunday of every month at the English Muffin restaurant, 132 S. Main St. in Hudson.