The House Republican tax bill, released Nov. 2, would eliminate the Johnson Amendment, legally define an “unborn child” as a human person and raise child care credits. Such changes, if signed into law, may sway some in favor of the bill, but other “unconscionable” reforms make the proposal “unacceptable,” the U.S. bishops said in a statement.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a 400-plus-page document, would “be the first federal income tax modification in American history to raise income taxes on the working poor while simultaneously providing a large tax cut to the wealthy,” the bishops stated, adding, “This is simply unconscionable.”
Before the document’s release, the bishops had urged White House lawmakers to care for the poor, strengthen families and incentivize charitable giving and development. However, upon examining the House’s proposal, the bishops were unsatisfied.
The bishops referenced the findings of the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), which found that under the new proposal those households with incomes of $20,000 and $40,000 per year would see their taxes raised in 2023, 2025 and again in 2027. Taxpayers earning between $10,000 and $20,000 in 2025 would, on average, also experience a tax increase.
“At the same time,” the bishops said, “significant tax breaks to the very wealthy — including millionaires and billionaires — are projected for each year.”
The child tax credits, which under the House bill would increase from a credit of $1,000 per child to $1,600, was a “modest increase” that failed to “fully compensate for the elimination of the personal exemption for some larger families,” the bishops said. (The House GOP bill, released Nov. 9, would increase the credit per child to $1,650.)
Even when accounting for the bill’s proposal to double the standard deduction, larger families would pay higher taxes, including two-parent homes with more than three children, and single-parent homes with more than one child.
The bishops also objected to the proposal to eliminate tax incentives for employers to provide dependent care assistance or child care and to eliminate out-of-pocket medical expenses deductions. The proposed family flexibility credit, at $300 per taxpayer, is some help, the bishops said, but noted that the credit would expire after five years without offsetting the greater losses.
In addition, the bishops decried the House’s initial proposal to eliminate the adoption tax credit, which allows families up to $13,570 per eligible child to ease the costs of adoption, which can total more than $30,000, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.
Ending the adoption tax credit would remove the “life-affirming assistance for families to adopt children desperately in need of love and support,” the bishops said. However, in response to vigorous opposition from both sides of the aisle, on Nov. 9 the Ways and Means Committee amended the document, allowing the adoption tax credit to remain as it was drafted in 1996 with bipartisan support.
President Donald Trump is trying to keep his pledge to repeal the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the U.S. tax code since 1954, that prohibits all 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. Trump said he wanted to “defend the freedom of religion and speech.”
The repeal of the Johnson Amendment would please some Evangelicals, but a recent Pew Research report found that while nearly half of Americans want churches to speak about the morality of social and political topics, most Americans oppose churches endorsing specific candidates for public office.
Many pro-life advocates hailed the bill’s inclusion of the term “unborn child,” which was defined in the legislation as “a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.” The term gave personhood to a fetus (and therefore the rights of a person), paving the way for an end to abortion, pro-lifers said.
Mallory Quigley of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List called the definition “a small increment in the momentum that we’re building to ensure that one day every child is welcomed and protected under the law.” She added, “We hope that it stays in the House bill and that it stays in anything the Senate puts out.”
On Nov. 9, the Republican majority House Ways and Means Committee voted in favor of the House bill, with all 24 Republicans voting in favor and all 16 Democrats voting against the bill. Congress will battle out what changes will be made to the bill while competing with the proposed Senate plan.
The administration hopes to have the bill on the president’s desk by Christmas.