The activist I’m speaking to outside the office of Republican Representative Mimi Walters of California lives in New York and comes down to D.C. every so often to get arrested.
Well, the plan isn’t exactly to get arrested—the plan is to speak with representatives and have them commit to prioritizing their constituents. In this instance, that means voting against the Republican tax bill. If representatives won’t meet with activists or if they won’t pledge a “no” vote, that’s when the civil disobedience—and possible arrest—comes in.
The civil disobedience is pretty simple, the activist tells me. You sit down in the hall, get arrested, go to jail, bail yourself out.
In the middle of our conversation, there’s a sudden boom of voices at the end of the hall. “Kill the bill, don’t kill us,” a group of maybe 100 demonstrators, many of them disability rights activists, is shouting. We watch them, startled, even though we knew they were coming, even though the din shouldn’t be surprising. The chants of the advancing army fill the hallway.
Kill the bill, don’t kill us!
Last week, a host of activists descended on Capitol Hill, demonstrating in front of Walters’s office, as well as the offices of Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and John McCain of Arizona, among others—in theory, all potential swing votes. These actions have been going on for weeks. The protestors shout out their stories, stage die-ins, get arrested.
Protesting inequitable tax policy—as well as advocating for more progressive policies—requires distilling intricate and sometimes nebulous tax policies into clear consequences. The Republican tax plan will hurt the country in myriad ways, but protests on Capitol Hill have zeroed in on the key issue of health.
There is, of course, the “repeal” of Obamacare, as President Trump calls it—the effective elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. Because the individual mandate requires all Americans to have health insurance or pay a fee, it incentivizes otherwise-healthy people to participate in the health exchange market too, which helps keep premiums low. Without the mandate, premiums will skyrocket. That’s why the Congressional Budget Office has estimated 13 million people will lose health insurance as a result of the tax legislation.
And cuts to Medicaid and Medicare are almost certainly coming, programs that people with disabilities, seniors, and low-income people rely on for their health care. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said that health-care entitlement reform is his biggest welfare reform priority, because “it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt. … [They are] where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”
The bill also weakens the Orphan Drug Credit, which incentivizes pharmaceutical companies to research and develop drugs for “orphan” diseases—those illnesses that affect fewer than 200,000 people nationwide. Without the credit, developing drugs for rare diseases that afflict few consumers might not be in the interest of a company’s bottom line.
The weakening or elimination of these provisions helps the Republicans pay for their enormous tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. Even though corporations have already indicated they do not plan to increase investment with their additional income, but rather, to reward their shareholders, the GOP insists their tax breaks will somehow trickle down to workers.
Besides the fact that this is nothing but the umpteenth invocation of the trickle-down myth, there is another problem with the Republicans’ language (and let’s be honest, often the Democrats’ too): Not all of Americans are “workers.” We use this term to legitimize the existence of low- and middle-income Americans, as if their worth can be measured by their productivity. This, apparently, makes them deserving of care. Such uncomfortable logic aside, what about those who don’t work?
For example, nearly 14 million people, many of whom cannot work at all, receive federal disability benefits. These benefits tend to be quite paltry: The average monthly Disability Insurance benefit is $1,038, which tallies to an annual benefit of $12,456, just above the poverty line for a single individual ($12,060). (Note that many people with disabilities do indeed work and sometimes have no choice.) This is part of the reason why government programs like Medicare and Medicaid are so critical for those with disabilities—because disabilities are expensive.
And yet, to many in the GOP, this insufficient support to the disabled doesn’t inspire greater assistance to people with disabilities who cannot work. Instead, it’s a rallying cry to further cut welfare for those who are seen as underserving.
The activists who stormed the Hill this past month gave the representatives that voted for this bill fair warning of the toll it may take on the health of their fellow Americans, especially those with disabilities.
Instead, again, the Republicans voted for the rich.