U.S. Bishops: “unconscionable” tax bill raises taxes on the poor to pay for cuts for the wealthy

Catholic bishops say the G.O.P.-backed tax reform plan is “unconscionable” and “unacceptable,” pointing to “fundamental structural flaws” that they say “will raise income taxes on the working poor while simultaneously providing a large tax cut to the wealthy.”

In a letter sent to members of the House of Representatives, three U.S. bishops who head committees on domestic justice, international justice and Catholic education examined the tax proposal, which cleared a key procedural hurdle on Nov. 9, saying that the proposal did not meet moral criteria “centered on care for the poor and concern for families.”

The bishops charged that the G.O.P. tax proposal “appears to be the first federal income tax modification in American history that will raise income taxes on the working poor while simultaneously providing a large tax cut to the wealthy.

“It must be changed for the sake of families—the bedrock of our country—and for those struggling on the peripheries of society who have a claim on our national conscience,” reads the letter, signed by Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, N.M., and Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., of Youngstown, Ohio.

The letter cites many areas of concern, including estimates that show tax rates going up for the poor while the wealthiest Americans would see big tax cuts.

“No tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for those living in poverty to help pay for benefits to wealthy citizens.”

“No tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for those living in poverty to help pay for benefits to wealthy citizens,” the bishops wrote.

They note that the Catholic Church supports a “progressive tax code” that places a higher burden on the wealthy than the poor, and they said that this plan fails in that regard.

“In the years that the working poor suffer a tax increase under this bill, millionaires and billionaires will see significant tax decreases,” they wrote. “This must be fixed.”

The Trump administration and congressional Republicans want to pass tax reform before the end of the year, following failures to deliver on many of the president’s campaign promises, including a pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But bishops say the deadline does not allow enough time for debate.

“Because tax policy is far-reaching, Congress must provide ample time for Americans to discuss the complexities of these reforms and fully understand their effects,” they wrote. “The current timetable does not provide adequate time for that discussion.”

The bishops did praise some elements of the bill, including an expansion of the child tax credit and a provision they say could expand “access to schools of choice.” But overall, the bishops said the process had been too rushed and that the bill needed to be reworked.

The bishops also fear that the resulting deficit from the tax proposal will be used as justification for future cuts in social welfare programs.

“Rather than exploring even modest reductions to these dramatic cuts for the wealthiest, the bill raises taxes on the vulnerable and creates a strong incentive to cut the social safety net,” they wrote.

In a section about how the bill would impact families, they wrote that the bill “places new and unreasonable burdens on families, especially those who welcome life or experience serious hardships.”

They highlighted the removal of a tax credit for adoption as one area of concern, though an amendment to the original bill inserted it back into the bill that could be voted on as early as next week. (A separate plan under consideration in the Senate also retains the adoption tax credit, the Associated Press reported.)

Other items they say could harm families include the elimination of a tax credit for medical debt and child care and stricter rules around parents’ social security numbers, a provision they say could harm immigrants.

The letter also takes aim at a provision of the bill that critics say could result in lower donations to charities and churches. Under the G.O.P. plan, the standard deduction would double, offering less incentive for individuals to donate to charity to lessen their tax burden.

“The tax code should encourage voluntary association, mutual aid, and a culture of giving, helping rather than hurting groups that will be asked to do more for the poor in the days ahead,” the bishops wrote

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