United States Public Law No. 115-97 is like a Christmas present you're afraid to open. It's from your Uncle Sam, and stuffed under the Christmas tree wrapped in 500 pages of actual law and 600 pages of a so-called "conference report" explaining the first 500 pages. Law No. 115-97 is better known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and despite CNN reporting "pretty much nobody in Congress had read the measure," it was passed along party lines by both the U.S. House and Senate and signed into law three days before Christmas.
"This thing was rushed through in a matter of days," said Christine Tiddens, community outreach director at Idaho Voices for Children. "We're still trying to dig into it."
The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy is as well, and analysts from both groups say they're really worried about what's wrapped up in the 1,000-plus pages of the bill.
GOP congressional sponsors of the $1.5 trillion bill promised taxes would be cut across the board for businesses and individuals, but an analysis by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy revealed that isn't the case.
"Have you seen this?" asked Necochea, pointing to the analysis, which shows wealthy Idahoans will enjoy the greatest tax relief, getting a 29 percent share of the new federal tax cuts, while 20 percent of the poorest Idahoans will see only 1 percent. ITEP further concluded 60 percent of Idaho taxpayers will receive only 14 percent of the total benefits, while the wealthiest 5 percent will reap 49 percent.
"We know the effects of this bill will reverberate for years to come," said Tiddens. "It will end up causing lasting damage to many people's ability to get an education, buy a home or save for retirement."
In their rush to approve the sweeping tax measure, the GOP-controlled House and Senate headed out of town before addressing something equally important: funding the Children's Health Insurance Program, aka CHIP, which is critical in the Gem State: Nearly 50 percent of newborns, children with disabilities and toddlers in Idaho receive coverage through CHIP, as do 100 percent of Idaho foster children.
"With CHIP, we're talking about everything from treating a child [with] the flu to a child with cancer, or helping a child manage their diabetes or asthma. Somehow, our children were placed on the back burner while Congress was eager to pass the tax bill," said Liz Woodruff, assistant director of Idaho Voices for Children.
What worries ICFP analysts even more is what Congress might do to cover the cost of the massive tax cut.
"This $1.5 trillion tax bill is going to have to be paid for somehow, and Congress is going to start looking at possible cuts to services that so many of Idaho's working class depend upon," said ICFP Policy Analyst Alejandra Cerna Rios.
Even the Congressional Budget Office didn't give the tax bill passing marks. The CBO estimated the bill would not only expand the national debt by $1.5 trillion over 10 years but could result in an additional 13,000,000 Americans joining the list of uninsured as well, due in large part to Congress attaching a rider to the tax bill that strips away the individual mandate to the Affordable Care Act.
Listen to Idaho's congressional delegation, and it might seem like the recently-passed legislation is a panacea for working-class Idahoans. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) said the measure would build "stronger families, stronger wages and better job growth." Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) echoed Crapo's remarks, saying the bill will "allow Idaho's women and men the ability to keep more of their hard-earned money." Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said the bill would "generate more economic growth and job creation," and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said, "I encourage people to see what this bill means to you."
"But the facts don't support any of that," said Woodruff, pushing back against the ringing endorsements of the new law. "So, it's our job to present as much information as possible so that the public really understands the true implications of the law, based on real research and real data. We're anxious for people to get the facts and communicate their concerns. It's all about the facts."