Tag Archives: abortion

Tax Policy Winners And Losers

I’ve posted previously about the GOP’s tax “reform” plan, and some of the truly despicable provisions hidden in the fine print. As more details emerge, it appears that my list–like the one below–barely scratches the surface.

Whatever the arguments in favor of the $1 trillion in corporate tax breaks contemplated by the measure, the original idea–the justification for reducing the rate– was that the rate could be lowered if the loopholes that allow large profitable corporations to pay little or no tax despite the published rate were eliminated. Somehow, however, the current version of the “reform” bill leaves corporations with both lower rates and their loopholes.

Speaking of corporations, Dana Milbank reported a revealing exchange in a recent Washington Post column.

Individuals lose the ability to deduct state and local taxes, tax preparation, moving expenses and most medical expenses. But corporations — think of them as Very Important Persons with superhuman privileges — can still deduct these same expenses.

At Monday’s markup, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) quizzed a tax expert on this corporate exceptionalism:

“Will a teacher in my district who buys pens, pencils and paper for his students be able to deduct these costs from his tax returns under this plan?” He will not.

“Will a corporation that buys pens, pencils and papers for its workers be able to deduct those costs from its tax returns?” It will.

“Will a firefighter in my district be able to deduct the state and local sales taxes that she pays from her tax return?” She will not.

“Will a corporation be able to deduct sales taxes on business purchases?” It will.

“If a worker in my district had to move because his employer was forcing him to relocate . . . can he deduct his moving expenses under this plan?” He cannot.

“Can a corporation under this plan deduct outsourcing expenses incurred in relocating a U.S. business outside the United States?” It can.

We Americans just love our corporations….they’re people, you know.

And isn’t it nice that Republican Americans are so “pro-life”? (Well, they’re pro pre born life; once that little bugger emerges from the womb, they are considerably less solicitous.) Among the non-fiscal measures in the tax “reform” bill is one intended to “protect babies”–aka fetuses and fertilized eggs. You’d think these pro-life men (they’re all men) would do anything they could to support  adoption as an alternative to abortion. But you’d be wrong.

The House Republican tax reform bill would completely eliminate the adoption tax credit, which has been in the tax code since 1997. It was a bipartisan achievement pushed through by former Texas Republican Rep. Bill Archer, who was chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Designed to help cover “reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, and other expenses,” the credit is available for up to $13,460 per child.

Some employers also offer adoption assistance in the form of financial aid and paid leave time. As of now, this type of assistance is tax-exempt, but the proposed bill would make such benefits subject to taxation.

The bill would also make adoption assistance from employers — which usually takes the form of financial aid and paid leave time — taxable.

Words fail.

I’m less surprised by the measures that would effectively destroy graduate education; the current crop of Republicans considers educated people snotty elitists. GOP officeholders sneer at scientists, oppose research funding, and think college professors are unAmerican.

Most graduate students get through their degree programs depending on assistantships, tuition waivers and lots of ramen noodle dinners. As Forbes reports,

Currently, these tuition waivers are paid by the college directly to itself, on behalf of the graduate student, and are not counted as taxable income. Under the current “reform” proposal, tuition waivers would be taxed as regular income, making graduate school an unaffordable proposition except for those already independently wealthy.

And then there’s that pesky little detail that the Congressional Budget Office finds problematic: this monstrosity will add 1.7 trillion to the deficit. (And that’s evidently after robbing Medicare and Social Security…) If you are looking for some of those Republican “deficit hawks” of yore, you are probably out of luck.

On the other hand, if you’re wondering why Paul Ryan is reportedly optimistic about passing this Thanksgiving turkey, Representative Chris Collins explained it the other day.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) got points for honesty Tuesday while advocating for Republicans’ tax bill to slash the corporate tax rate and eliminate the estate tax, among other things.

“My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’” Collins said.

I’m sure those donors are selfless patriots who simply want to see middle-class Americans get some tax relief. (And if you believe that, I have a swamp in Florida to sell you…)

Texas Tells Heidi To Go Yodel

I do love Texas. Whenever I need examples of really stupid government behavior for classroom use, I can count on the Lone Star State to supply them.

A recent example, courtesy of the AP: Texas has been an enthusiastic participant in the war against Planned Parenthood, and in 2011 it banned the organization from a women’s health program meant to provide low-cost breast exams, contraception and cancer screening. Instead, the state contracted with inexperienced providers, notably the Heidi Group, an evangelical nonprofit started in the 1990s and best known for promoting alternatives to abortion.

The Heidi Group fell well short of serving the 70,000 women it had promised to reach, and for which it had been paid 1.6 million dollars. Its failure to perform under that contract, however, paled in comparison to its failure to meet the goals in a much larger state contract under which it was to provide family planning services.

More than $5 million in taxpayer funds pledged to the Heidi Group was for family planning services. But the small nonprofit hasn’t met their goals and now plans to serve only a fifth of the nearly 18,000 women originally projected, said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Texas has now reduced the contract from $5 million to $1 million. That will save some tax dollars, but it won’t provide needed health services to Texas’ women.

According to the AP, “The Heidi Group is led by Carol Everett, a prominent anti-abortion activist and influential conservative force in the Texas Legislature.”

Most sentient people have figured out that the unremitting assault on Planned Parenthood is part of a larger war being waged against women’s autonomy–our right to control our own reproduction and make our own moral and medical decisions. That broader assault is usually veiled by rhetoric against abortion (which is a tiny percentage of the services Planned Parenthood provides).

So how is Texas doing? Is the legislature’s willingness to deny poor women life-saving pap smears and breast exams translating into fewer abortions?

Not so much.

With the goal of eliminating abortion, Texas Republicans have stripped Planned Parenthood of funding and steadily obstructed patient access to care over the past few years. Turns out, their ideological, anti-choice crusade is having the opposite effect. A new study shows abortion rates have jumped since Planned Parenthood was blocked.

During the three years after the Texas legislature defunded Planned Parenthood, teen abortions increased 3.1% and teen births spiked by 3.4%  The legislature shuttered more than 80 family planning clinics altogether, action which not only decreased access to preventive women’s health care and low-cost contraception, but led to a spike in unintended pregnancies, especially among teens, and substantial increases in Medicaid expenditures.

Packham reports that 2,200 teens would not have given birth if the Legislature hadn’t cut family planning, slowing the overall progress of a decreasing birth rate. With an average taxpayer cost of $27,000 per birth, the price tag of the cuts total an estimated $80 million, outweighing the funds saved by the drastic cuts – a figure self-avowed fiscal conservative Republicans may want to heed. Other research bolsters Packham’s work: Last year, the UT-based Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that in East Texas’ Gregg County, abortion rose by a whopping 191% in the two years after the county lost 60% of its family planning funding. Similar results appeared in neighboring counties.

Will anyone who thinks Texas legislators learned anything from their Heidi experience please yodel?

The Bully Pulpit

I recently attended the bat mitzvah of a cousin’s daughter at the synagogue in which I grew up.  My cousin’s daughter did a great job with her Torah portion, but I was particularly struck by the sermon, in which Rabbi Dennis Sasso forcefully and eloquently connected those ancient teachings to America’s contemporary challenges.

I sometimes need to remind myself that for every judgmental scold or religious con-man, there is a religious leader like Rabbi Sasso wrestling with the nature of human community and authentic moral behavior.

He was kind enough to share a copy of his remarks.

 Judaism is not just a set of general principles or lofty ideals. It is the living out of those values in the here and now, in the everyday of human encounter between a person and his/her neighbor, a man and woman, parents and children, elected officials and the people, nation and nation.

And so, in this week’s Torah portion, entitled Mishpatim (“Ordinances”), we have the fleshing out of the Ten Commandments. We find here the beginnings of a constitutional biblical tradition, upon which future post-biblical (rabbinic) legislation will evolve, not just as a faith tradition but as a religion of ethical nationhood.

The Rabbi noted that the book of Exodus contains many laws that mirror those of our civil state, including, most significantly, “laws forbidding the oppression of the powerless, the weak, the widow, the orphan, the poor and the stranger — the disenfranchised members of society.”

The commandment to “love your neighbor” occurs in Leviticus 19. However, the commandment to “love the stranger,” the foreigner, the immigrant, (a much more difficult task) – occurs here twice and 36 times in the Torah (“Love the stranger…” “for you know the heart of the stranger, as you were strangers in the land of Egypt”).

The heart of the sermon–at least to me–was the explicit application of Jewish teaching to matters pending at the Indiana legislature.

Reading through this week’s portion we can find guidance regarding many bills currently before our State and Federal Legislatures.

There is SB 439 – regarding Hate Crime Laws – likely not to pass in Indiana because of the pressure of conservative forces that feign to promote themselves as religious.      Well, they are quite out of sync with the biblical heritage they purport to uphold – a heritage that teaches – “You shall not hate your neighbor in your heart.”

The growing vitriol expressed in words and acts of anti-Semitism, Islamphobia and other ethnic and gender directed prejudice speak of an epidemic of hate that must be contained. We should be alarmed by what is happening to words in our times – particularly in the political and religious arenas. Language has become shrill, offensive and misleading. Words, angry and hostile weapons.

Then there are legislative initiatives to curtail rights for LGBTQ+ citizens and to impose doctrinal understandings of reproductive health and abortion rights. Interestingly, this week’s Torah portion contains the key passage that defines miscarriage and abortion not as murder, but as a civil matter (Ex. 21:22-24).

Abortion is a painful and serious decision to be made by a woman in consultation with her physician, loved ones and in keeping with her religious values. In the Jewish legal and moral tradition, termination of pregnancy is never defined as homicide, and it is not only permissible, but required to protect the life and health of the mother, in some cases even her mental health. In Jewish law, the fetus is not defined as a “person,” with independent legal and moral status, until the moment of delivery. Judaism does not share the view that human life begins at conception. Throughout pregnancy the fetus is potential life, to be honored and protected, but dependent on and subordinate to the life of the mother.

To impose particular doctrinal restrictions on abortion constitutes not only a violation of privacy and civil rights, but a limitation of religious rights, by imposing beliefs and values that counter the faith traditions of others. And certainly to muddle legislation with unscientific and potentially injurious information is a pious fraud.

Consider the higher health risks for women and infants that proposed legislation – which includes threats to cut funds for Planned Parenthood – would involve. Our state’s infant mortality rate, already among the highest in the country, would rise dramatically.

Ironically, some of the same groups that counter hate crime laws, and advance restrictions on health care and civil rights, piously advocate for prayer in public schools and, paradoxically, promote liberalization of gun laws – guns that can kill in schools, domestic settings and hateful social encounters…

Today, our nation struggles with the issue of immigration, our response and responsibilities to the stranger in our midst. Our deepest Jewish convictions tell us that protecting the humanity of immigrants, who have come to the United States to better lives for themselves and their children, puts our communities on a path towards strengthening families and society and ultimately, the moral values of our nation. By all means, we need to ensure the safety of the homeland, and guard the security of our borders, but not in ways that discriminate, intimidate and create a siege mentality and police state.

Keeping families together, allowing immigrants to fully contribute to our communities, providing relief for millions of aspiring Americans from unnecessary deportation and family separation, these are at the heart of the Jewish legislative and moral traditions. It is also the best of the American tradition which we as Jews have helped to shape and from which we have benefited.

The Rabbi closed with this profound and increasingly relevant quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel:

When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; … its message becomes meaningless.

Words applicable to both religion and political ideology–and definitely worth pondering.

 

 

Recognizing Reality

The Supreme Court has finally stepped in to say “enough” to the oh-so-clever politicians trying to mask their disdain for women’s autonomy by pretending a concern for women’s health.

The Texas law that triggered the lawsuit was one of a number of similar efforts to cloak anti-choice measures in excessive and onerous “medical” regulations. It required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and imposed a number of physical requirements on clinics, making them meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers.

Although Texas argued that the measures were aimed at protecting women’s health, Rick Perry was among the political figures who were more forthright about the law’s actual motive, describing it as one step toward an “ideal world” in which there would be no abortion.

Motive aside, as Justice Breyer wrote for the majority, neither of the provisions imposed by Texas “offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.” Justice Ginsberg was more blunt, noting that “It is beyond rational belief” that those provisions actually protected women’s health.

As numerous medical experts have pointed out, abortion is one of the safest of medical procedures. (Colonoscopies and tonsillectomies are riskier, but political figures expressing concern about those operations are non-existent.)

What participants in the ongoing battles over reproductive choice, same-sex marriage, and other “culture war” issues that roil American public debate miss is the actual legal question at the heart of these conflicts. The issue is not whether a woman should terminate a pregnancy or carry it to term; the question is: who should decide what she should do?

Too many Americans fail to understand the purpose of the Bill of Rights, which was to protect individual autonomy—a person’s right to self-government—against government infringement. The Bill of Rights, as I tell my students, is a list of things that government is prohibited from doing. Government cannot tell you what to say, or what to believe, no matter how ugly your speech or deluded your belief. Government cannot tell you whether or how to pray, who to marry, how many children to have, or what career to follow.

Government can’t do these things even if a majority of its citizens wants it to. Just as your neighbors cannot vote to make you an Episcopalian or a Baptist, popular majorities cannot use government to restrict the individual liberties protected by the Bill of Rights.

In short, government cannot tell you how to live your life—how to make what the Court has called your most “intimate decisions.” The rest of us don’t have to agree with the decisions you make, but you get to make them.

The Texas law was one of several transparent efforts by lawmakers trying to do an “end run” around a woman’s right to make decisions with which they disagree.

Fortunately, the Court saw through the dishonesty of that effort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Killing for Life…

Well, evidently, failed Presidential contender Ted Cruz had a “pro life” adviser who wants to execute abortion providers. (“Pro life” folks like these always remind me of that Cold War-era Second City skit: “Kill a Commie for Christ.”)

Abortion is a very thorny issue. Unlike so much of the culture war agenda, there is a genuine argument to be made by those who see abortion as equivalent to murder. They tend to start from very different premises than those of us who defend a woman’s right to control her own autonomy–they see a human being from the moment of conception, and believe that the interests of that potential human should be given priority over the rights of the woman who is carrying it.

Pro-choice defenders have many responses to that viewpoint, both moral and practical, but we can–and mostly do– respect the legitimacy of that perspective, and the sincerity of many people who hold it.

Unfortunately for the conduct of the “abortion wars,” however, the loudest voices claiming the “pro-life” label are anything but legitimately pro-life. Their ranks are filled with fundamentalist culture warriors fanatically opposed both to women’s autonomy and to our equality. Their concern for “life” rather pointedly excludes the life of the woman, and it extends to the fetus only until it is born. These are the dishonest “filmmakers” who doctor surreptitious videos, the “pro life” legislators unwilling to spend money to feed or house or properly educate poor children once they are born, the opponents of birth control…Well, you all know the drill.

But the worst of the worst are the men (and they’re almost always men) who advocate killing in the service of “life.” The men who murder abortion doctors, the political opportunists who argue that women should carry their rapist’s baby to term, the un-self-aware pontificators who advocate prison or even execution for those who help desperate women avoid back-alley abortions.

Let’s get real.

As my friends in Planned Parenthood point out, women didn’t start getting abortions after Roe v. Wade. They just stopped dying from them. But theirs are clearly not the lives that matter to the sanctimonious “pro life” culture warriors like Cruz and his “advisor.”

There’s a reason that so many observers considered Ted Cruz even more dangerous than Donald Trump. Although–as Lindsay Graham memorably put it–choosing between the two of them would be like choosing between death by gun or by poison….