November 30, 2017 Liz Borkowski, MPH 1Comment

Congressional Republicans are rushing to vote on legislation that would slash corporate taxes while ultimately raising taxes on those not in the top income bracket, but have spent two months failing to extend the bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). In doing so, they’re failing to apply lessons learned in two Republican-controlled states.

There are a lot of problems with the House-passed tax bill and/or the version the Senate’s poised to vote on within the next few days, including a repeal of the individual mandate that would leave 13 million fewer people with health insurance in 2027, tuition-benefit changes that would imperil the US research enterprise, and the fact that it will lead to big cuts in Medicare and Social Security. The fact that tax changes that might help middle-class families (if they’re not offset by removal of current provisions) expire after 2025 while corporate tax breaks remain suggests warped priorities. But the problem that underpins the entire idea of slashing taxes this severely — and taking on a $1.5 trillion deficit, which used to be the kind of thing Republicans complained about — is that the GOP is trying to sell this as a move that will grow the economy enough to balance out lost revenue, when multiple credible analyses find it won’t.

If lawmakers don’t want to rely on experts’ modeling in making poorly supported claims about what their tax bills will do, they ought to at least consider the evidence from a state that tried this experiment: Kansas. There, steep tax cuts were sold as a way to bring on an economic boom — but instead, they got a budget crisis. Here’s the Kansas City Star editorial board urging members of Congress to learn from their state’s experience:

Every Kansan knows what happened after Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 cuts did away with the state income tax for some 330,000 business owners. The governor kept insisting — and in fact, still does — that robust growth and woohoo, jobs galore would result. When that didn’t happen, elected officials kept having to dip into funds set aside for highways and schools just to balance the budget. Finally, this year, lawmakers overrode a Brownback veto and at last repealed the LLC tax break and raised income tax rates.

… If Republicans wanted a bill that actually helped, as [Olathe, KS resident Robynn] Andracsek put it, normal people, that’s what they’d have come up with instead of a big, juicy break for the wealthiest families in America and a meager, mixed bag of lollipops and rocks for everyone else. Oh, and then the lollipops disappear after a few years, leaving us with a sack full of … rocks.

Public health would have been better served if Republicans had spent more of the past month working out a deal to extend CHIP, which provides insurance coverage to nearly nine million children, without harming other aspects of public health. CHIP expired on September 30, and states have been scrambling to keep their programs running in the absence of expected federal funding. Colorado announced this week that it would have to start sending letters to CHIP-enrolled families so they can start exploring other options.

Vox’s Dylan Scott warns that Congressional inaction is already damaging CHIP, and points to Florida as an instructive example. CHIP enrollment there dropped sharply after Florida adopted new enrollment restrictions in 2003 and 2004; officials decided they’d made a mistake and reversed restrictions. Enrollment hasn’t recovered, though. Scott writes:

[Florida CHIP board member Steve] Freedman said people in the state attributed that prolonged depressed enrollment to the uncertainty around the program in those years more than any specific policy change.

Not unlike what states are experiencing now while Congress drags its feet funding CHIP.

From its inception, CHIP has enjoyed bipartisan support — probably because most people can agree that children shouldn’t go without healthcare, especially not in such a wealthy nation.

Maybe if enough members of Congress hear enough from their constituents, they’ll learn these lessons before it’s too late.

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