Citing a desire to help families and spur growth, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin said Tuesday he plans to vote in favor of a controversial tax bill Thursday that critics say favors the wealthiest Americans.
Poliquin, a 2nd District Republican, said he’s worked hard to make the measure “very pro-family” and a solid step forward for Maine.
The idea, he said, “is to put more money back in the pockets” of working people and to lower the tax burden on businesses so they can invest more. The $1.5 trillion plan would reduce corporate taxes from 35 to 20 percent and eliminate the estate tax in six years.
Poliquin’s decision drew quick criticism from political foes who see the bill as a giveaway to the rich, a position shared by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.
Calling it “fiscally irresponsible,” Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, said the GOP plan is “a giant tax giveaway to millionaires, billionaires and corporate shareholders” that will add to the national debt.
Golden, who hopes to take on Poliquin next year, said, “Economic inequality is on the rise in this country and this tax plan will only make it worse.”
Democratic congressional hopeful Tim Rich of Bar Harbor, who is one of six Democrats vying for the right to challenge Poliquin in 2018, said he is not surprised the lawmaker favors “a plan that gives tax breaks to the wealthy and takes away tax breaks for students and medical expenses.”
Poliquin said the proposal will lower taxes for Mainers by doubling the standard deduction and raising the child tax credit by 60 percent.
House leaders say they have enough votes to enact the proposal. The Senate has its own version, however, which contains a number of differences. If both are adopted, Poliquin said, a conference committee would “go in a room and lock the door and iron out our differences.”
Poliquin said there are provisions that are only in the Senate measure that he hopes wind up in the final bill, including the ability to deduct medical expenses and student loan interest, but approving the House proposal is a necessary first step.
Given that Congress hasn’t passed a major overhaul of the tax code in 32 years, Poliquin said, moving forward “is a very big deal and it’s very hard to do.”
It’s taken two years of negotiations among the 435 House members who have a wide array of competing interests, the congressman said.
Poliquin said there were some key elements that he insisted on, including leaving in place a provision that taxes trees at a favorable rate so that landowners have an interest in maintaining forests for long-term use, important to Maine’s forest products industry.
Without the protection offered in the tax code, he said, there would be an incentive to “cut ‘em and leave” instead of safeguarding the forest’s health for the future.
Poliquin said he also fought to make the tax rate on small businesses “as low as possible.”
He said he was happy that the measure would lower the federal tax rate on the first $75,000 a business earns to 9 percent, the lowest rate since World War II.
That should help new and little businesses keep more of what they earn so they can reinvest and increase pay, Poliquin said.
Poliquin said he is also glad the current House bill leaves the tax break to help people pay for adoptions in place. It had been targeted for elimination as part of a wide-ranging effort to trim “all kinds of loopholes,” he said.
The House bill would add $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit during the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office said. It also said it didn’t have time to figure out the details involved before it would come to a vote.
To pay for the tax cut, Congress has already approved a budget measure that calls for slicing $500 million from Medicare by 2027 and saving $1 million from other medical spending, mostly Medicaid. Those details are, however, not yet worked out.
The Tax Policy Center, an independent and bipartisan outfit, said it figures that about half the tax savings would go to the richest 1 percent of Americans by 2027 while about a quarter of Americans would wind up paying more than they do now.
“It’s going to be a giveaway to corporations and some of the wealthiest people in the country,” Pingree said at a roundtable in Portland this week.
Jonathan Fulford, a Monroe builder who is among the possible Democratic challengers to Poliquin, called the GOP bill “a perfect example of reverse Robin Hood, taking from the working people of Maine and giving it to the superrich.”
Isleboro bookstore owner Craig Olson, who is also running for Congress against Poliquin, said that “as a small business owner I know that it will not help small businesses like mine, only large corporations who have the means to lobby those in power in Washington and provide the best possible bill for their benefit alone.”
“Until we stop electing millionaires and political insiders who are beholden to millionaires from both parties, this is our future – one in which the rich get richer and the American Dream dies,” Fulford said.
But Poliquin said he got into politics to help Mainers, not himself, the sorts of hard-working folks who operate lobster boats, small farms, barbershops and little businesses all over his rural district.
They’re “the people I work for,” Poliquin insisted. And they’re the ones who will benefit from a tax code overhaul, he said.
Garrett Murch, communications director for the Maine GOP, said that “anyone who actually knows Bruce knows he’s a man with middle-class Maine roots who is fighting every day for the middle class and for all of his constituents.”
“I have no doubt he will continue this fight as the lengthy tax reform process continues in Congress,” Murch said.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)