How do you pass a tax bill that hurts the bulk of your constituents while lining the pockets of the wealthy? Members of Congress have been speeding to push their historically unpopular tax cuts, voting in the dead of night on a bill covered in handwritten notes with the hope that their haste will prevent their plans from being derailed. But across the country, people have been telling their elected officials: the bill comes with a disastrous price tag for the constituents they’re supposed to represent.
The weeks preceding the Senate vote saw a flurry of protests and rallies aimed at stopping the tax bill in its tracks. Groups like Americans For Tax Fairness have been publishing nonstop updates and fact sheets to educate the public.
And even as the tax bill cleared another hurdle over the weekend, the actions have continued. Maine residents protested outside the office of Senator Susan Collins, calling her vote in favor of the bill a “betrayal.” Just hours after the vote, hundreds in New York City demonstrated outside of a GOP fundraising event attended by President Trump. Protesters around the country have shown that despite the rush to pass tax cuts, they already know about the potential costs of the bill — and not just the economic kind.
For Rebecca Wood, that cost could come to her five-year-old daughter Charlie, who relies on Medicaid for her healthcare. Wood is concerned about what potential cuts to the program could mean for her child, whom she describes as medically complex.
So on November 28, Wood, along with several other protesters, attended a Senate Budget Committee hearing to make sure their elected officials knew of their concerns. The group interrupted the meeting, sharing personal stories while chanting “don’t kill us, kill the bill,” a popular refrain from the health care protests earlier this year. Capitol police arrested several of the demonstrators, including Wood.
“I’m glad I did it, because I felt like I was finally heard,” Wood told Inequality.org. “The Republicans never want to meet with us. They never want to see us. Even if you try to talk to them in the hallways, they don’t listen. So what choice did they give us?”
Crosby King, another protester arrested on Tuesday, had a similar motive. “It was important for us to make Republican senators realize that most Americans will be hurt by this legislation,” King told Inequality.org. “And if they didn’t know it then, they certainly do now.”
King, an organizer with the Maryland branch of the disability rights organization ADAPT, says the health care components of the bill drew him to action. “Any time people with disabilities are threatened, I make a stand.” The bill is one of the worst pieces of legislation King says he’s seen in his lifetime, so he plans on keeping pressure on Congress as it moves through the conference process. “We’d like to let them know that they’re on the wrong side of history.”
Protests continued throughout the week outside the halls of Congress as well — including right outside on the Capitol lawn, where a coalition held a People’s Filibuster for more than 24 hours to voice their displeasure before the Senate vote. Graduate students from Georgetown and the University of Maryland were among the speakers at the rally. The students denounced one particularly confusing provision in the House version of the bill, which would end the tax break graduate students receive on tuition waivers — a move that could heavily increase taxes on a group that’s already facing economic precarity.
Chad Frazier, a Georgetown PhD candidate and one of the event’s speakers, told Inequality.org that he doesn’t have more than a couple hundred dollars a month in discretionary spending already. He’s not sure if he could manage with a huge hike in his tax bill. “My parents work in retail. They can’t give me some big cash infusion to make up for my lost income.”
Eben Levey, a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland, was similarly concerned about who would be most affected by the bill, especially given the high cost of living in and around Washington, DC “There’s no way, unless we’re independently wealthy, that we can afford to live here,” Levey said. “We already don’t make it. This would be a fatal blow.”
Levey and Frazier are only two of the many students protesting the bill. On November 29th, graduate students around the country held a day of action to voice their anger over the tax plan. PhD candidate Nick Millman was one of the organizers of a “work-in” held that day at the University of Pennsylvania. It wasn’t his first time protesting against the tax bill — that came the week before, when he joined students from other universities in the area to demonstrate outside of Senator Pat Toomey’s offices.
Millman found the lack of deliberation around the bill particularly troubling. “I want to see a more critical democracy in place, in which there’s a true consultation with the people affected,” he told Inequality.org. But he wasn’t disheartened. The work-in was a show of strength for the school’s budding graduate student union, GET-UP. And while the group doesn’t have immediate plans for another protest, “there is now a structure through which we can organize that rather quickly,” he said.
There’s also a glimmer of hope for graduate students across the country, as the Senate version of the bill doesn’t consider waived tuition as taxable income. Whether that holds true for the final proposal remains to be seen.
Even if the graduate students win their fight against the tuition waiver provision, there’s still a lot of injustice tucked into every corner of the tax bill, much of it yet to be fully understood. Wood hopes that people around the country will stand up against the bill as it enters its next stage in Congress. “Do you know how much you have to lose? Why are you not outraged?” Wood asks of people who haven’t been following the debate over the tax cuts.
But she won’t end her battle with the bill prematurely. “You have to fight until they actually vote,” she said on Friday afternoon as she headed back to DC for the Senate deliberations. And even if the bill passes, she promises that Congress will keep hearing from her: “Hell hath no fury like a pissed off mom.”